Friday, December 16, 2005

Honor prevails

The U.S. intelligence apparatus has become the laughing stock of other countries and a painful humiliation at home.

The bumbling and blundering began before 9/11, when evidence of an aircraft kamikaze attack was ignored. It continued through concoction of Iraqi doomsday weapons, to Abu Ghraib prison abuses, and into Vice President Cheney arguing for the CIA's right to torture detainees kidnapped and whisked surreptitiously from country to country for questioning in secret CIA prisons.

Thanks to the ethics perspectives of a single man, Republican U.S. Sen. John McCain of Arizona, the Bush administration and the rogue elephant of the GOP, Vice President Cheney, have been thoroughly rebuked.

The White House virtually capitulated Thursday to McCain's demands, bolstered by a 90-9 vote in the Senate and an equally thunderous 308-122 vote in the House, for a Defense bill amendment authored solely by McCain that outlaws torture of detainees held here or abroad. McCain mounted unassailable arguments when he denounced torture as an intelligence tool.

First, as an American with a lucid sense of his nation's heritage of decency and civilized behavior, McCain denounced torture as a demeaning, self-destructive act that would reduce the United States to the level of barbaric terrorists.

And second, as a longtime prisoner of war in Vietnam, McCain said knowingly that torture produces only false information from captives in indescribable pain who will admit anything to be left alone.

Even as Cheney was refusing to abandon his unspeakable demands, a surreal moment erupted: U.S. Ambassador to Iraq, Zalmay Khalilzad, publicly complained that detainees held in Iraqi prisons were being abused and probably tortured. He called for an investigation.

How far McCain advanced with his courageous statesmanship and how far the White House retreated can be found in this: When McCain first proposed his no-torture amendment, the White House threatened to veto the entire Defense bill in hope of scaring McCain and his supporters.

No longer. The Defense bill is intact, if not the reputation of those who established themselves as disciples of torture.

Whoever advised President Bush to stick with Vice President Cheney for so many months in the obscene quest for the right to inflict pain on other humans served the president and the nation poorly. The Senate and House served it well by stopping this seeping dark blot on the nation's honor.

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