Monday, September 25


Former New York Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman knows just who Bush is trying to protect with his stealth campaign to provide retroactive legislative cover for crimes committed under the War Crimes Act of 1996.

Gonzales has already expressed his concern that special prosecutors and/or independent counsels might bring charges under the Act. The cover story is that Bush is trying to shield "CIA interrogators" so that their program of torture may continue -- but as Holtzman points out, special prosecutors or independent counsels aren't set up for low-level civil servants, but for the president and his cabinet. Bush has demonstrated very little concern for his foot soldiers, whether in the military or the intelligence services, so I think it's unrealistic to think that's what we're seeing now. He's used the additional argument that CIA interrogators will simply refuse to torture people if they don't have legal cover, and that's more believable. But I think there's more reason to believe he's just worried about his own skin.

To ''reduce the threat of domestic criminal prosecution under the War Crimes Act,'' Gonzales recommended that Bush not apply the Geneva Conventions to al-Qaida and the Taliban. Since the War Crimes Act carried out the Geneva Conventions, Gonzales reasoned that if the Conventions didn't apply, neither did the War Crimes Act. Bush implemented the recommendation on Feb. 7, 2002.

When the Supreme Court recently decided that the Conventions did apply to al-Qaida and Taliban detainees, the possibility of criminal liability for high-level administration officials reared its ugly head again.

What to do? The administration has apparently decided to secure immunity from prosecution through legislation. Under cover of the controversy involving the military tribunals and whether they could use hearsay or coerced evidence, the administration is trying to pardon itself, hoping that no one will notice. The urgent timetable has to do more than anything with the possibility that the next Congress may be controlled by Democrats, who will not permit such a provision to be adopted.

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