Published on Sunday, August 27, 2006 by the Los Angeles Times
Modest Proposal: Waterboard Congress
Maybe White House-favored interrogation techniques would coax lawmakers to tell the truth about U.S. anti-terror policies
by James Bovard
In response to the Supreme Court's June decision in Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld, the Bush administration has proposed a new Enemy Combatant Military Commissions Act. If passed by Congress, this act would revolutionize American jurisprudence.
The White House wants military tribunals hearing the cases of terrorism suspects to be able to use "coerced" confessions. As Acting Asst. Atty. Gen. Steven Bradbury helpfully assured Congress last month, "there are gradations of coercion much lower than torture."
Because many in the administration and Congress feel strongly that coerced confessions constitute the "best practice" to get truth from people suspected of bad things, then, under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, American citizens should be permitted to use the same method to pry the truth out of their elected representatives.
One such method is waterboarding: strapping someone to a board and pushing him underwater to make him feel like he's drowning. Since then-CIA Director Porter Goss assured Congress last year that this was a "professional interrogation method," not torture, citizens should be permitted to bring splintery planks, leather straps and water tanks to expedite discussions with any member of Congress who continues to insist that things are going swimmingly for the U.S. military in Iraq.
Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld has during his tenure approved the use of a dozen extreme interrogation methods above and beyond those previously permitted by the Pentagon, including, but not limited to, hooding, disrobing, placing detainees in stress positions and exploiting their "fear of dogs." When the resulting Abu Ghraib photos leaked out in 2004, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.) declared that he was more "outraged by the outrage" than by the actual evidence of detainee abuse.
So: Inhofe should be blindfolded, put in a straitjacket and left in a room full of crazed chihuahuas until he explains why he believes that the U.S. military should not be constrained to follow the laws of the land, such as the Anti-Torture Act.
The iconic photo from the Bush/Rumsfeld interrogation era is that of the Iraqi detainee covered in a shroud, standing on a box, with wires attached to his body. Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.) spearheaded the coverup of the CIA's use of secret prisons throughout Eastern Europe, so he could stand on his own box wired to an electric charge until confessing why he believes that the Geneva Convention prohibition on making detainees "disappear" is null and void.
Exposure to extreme cold and heat is another method routinely used by U.S. interrogators. Sen. Joe Lieberman (D-Conn.) has been the biggest Democratic apologist for Abu Ghraib in the Senate, so perhaps he could be strapped to a block of ice until he explains how using "coercion" helps the United States win hearts and minds in the Muslim world.
Public interrogations of elected representatives should use the same rules Bush favors for tribunals — anyone could make an anonymous accusation against a congressman, and congressmen would be prohibited from seeing or cross-examining their accusers. Secret evidence could be allowed, even if it (or the "secret" being protected) failed the laugh test. We cannot let old-fashioned due-process rigamarole impede our pursuit of the truth.
Some people may object, contending that waterboarding congressmen will tarnish the dignity of democracy. But this is rather quaint, considering everything Congress has already rubber-stamped.
Besides, politicians are not being coerced to approve the use of coerced confessions, so they still have time to avoid reaping what they sow.
James Bovard is the author, most recently, of "Attention Deficit Democracy" (2006).
© 2006 The Los Angeles Times