Friday, February 26, 2010

Another End Run Around Vital Civic Norms

According to The Hill, Intelligence Committee Chairman Silvestre Reyes tried, unsuccessfully, to sneak "[a] controversial bill that would have levied criminal punishments on intelligence officers for harsh interrogations" past the House by means of a Manager's Amendment.  Here's how The Hill described the maneuver (my emphasis):
“House Republicans charged Democrats with trying to sneak a provision into the intelligence authorization bill that would establish criminal punishment for CIA agents and other intelligence officials who engage in “cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment” during interrogations.

“Democrats inserted an 11-page addition into the bill late Wednesday night as the House Rules Committee considered the legislation.

“The provision, previously not vetted in committee, applied to “any officer or employee of the intelligence community” who during interrogations engages in beatings, infliction of pain or forced sexual acts. The bill said the acts covered by the provision would include inducing hypothermia, conducting mock executions or “depriving the [detainee] of necessary food, water, sleep, or medical care.”

The language gave Congress the discretion to determine what the terms mean, and it would have imposed punishments of up to 15 years in prison, and in some cases, life sentences if a detainee died as a result of the interrogation.”
I’m not sure what’s more alarming, Reyes’s readiness to enact a far-reaching and highly controversial piece of legislation without any semblance of legislative deliberation or his indifference to basic due process standards that require that criminal laws be widely promulgated and sufficiently specific to give people subject to criminal liability fair notice of what counts as illegal conduct. In any case, it’s yet another example of liberal politicians corrupting public decision-making and legal procedures in the service of a substantive objective.

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