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September 22, 2006

Summary Of The Interrogation Deal

Long story short: On most issues, the President got what he wanted.

On the purely symbolic and semantic issue of whether or not the Geneva Conventions would be expressly "modified," McCain got what he wanted. The Conventions will not be modified. The War Crimes Act, by which infractions of the Conventions are punished, will, on the other hand be modified.

In other words, the Conventions are being modified indirectly but inarguably, but McCain gets to claim he won on that issue.

On the critical issue of waterboarding, they seem to have punted. Unable to come to any agreement on that, they left it vague.

There will be no lawsuits; no private causes of actions are allowed. The Congress gets to define "grave breaches," which will give rise to prosecutions; anything less than a "grave breach" may be defined as acceptable by Executive Order. Does the president have the power to define waterboarding as non-"grave" if the Congress has defined "grave breaches" as including techniques that inflict "serious mental harm"?

Who knows. No one does. There was no meeting of the minds on this point.

Victory for coercive interrogations? Not quite. But the issue remains open, and may be revisited.

The politics of it are clearly a win for Republicans. The Democrats no longer have the cover of war hero/torture victim John McCain. Most Democrats in competitive races will have to support this compromise if they want a chance of actually winning. Democratic Senators who aren't up for reelection, and those in safe Congressional districts, will be able to vote against this and slam it as permitting torture.

The Democrats hope that this strategy will immunize their candidates in competitive races against the issue, while the rest of the Democratic Party plays to the soft-on-terror base and assures them they're still the party of guaranteeing the Bill of Rights for terrorists.

So, on this issue, Democrats will try to keep it local (hey, Bill Nelson voted for the compromise!) while Republicans will try to nationalize it, and portray the whole of the Democratic Party as soft-on-terror, mitigated only by a few cynical go-along-to-get-alongers in key races.

The issue will still cut against Democrats, though. Their strategy may help some candidates avoid it, but there is little doubt as to what would happen should the Democratic Party take Congress.

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posted by Ace at 02:51 PM

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