The House of Representatives fell 51 votes short of an override of President Bush’s veto of the ban on waterboarding.
By a vote of 225-188, the House has failed to override the veto. During the debate, Rep. Pete Hoekstra of Michigan, the top Republican on the Intelligence Committee, sided with preserving torture. Curiously, he asked “What are the priorities of this House?” I thought that answer was clear in his oath. He is supposed to uphold the Constitution. One of the priorities of this nation is to prevent a president from committing crimes in office. Then there is our long priority of banning all forms of torture. The only priority shown by these members is to protect the president at any cost — even at the cost of our principles.
Both democrats and republicans have already guaranteed that Bush will not be held accountable for the torture program. After effectively decriminalizing torture, the objections heard from Democrats should be met with a healthy degree of scorn.
Now that he is certain not to face any criminal investigation by either the Justice Department, click here, or any congressional investigation, here, Bush is free to treat the matter as simply one of presidential tastes. Indeed, as noted in an earlier column, waterboarding techniques have become the subject of almost casual discussion by Bush officials.
In his veto statement, Bush felt so comfortable that torture has been decriminalized that he openly stated his desire to use it when needed: “The bill Congress sent me would take away one of the most valuable tools in the war on terror . . . So today I vetoed it. This is no time for Congress to abandon practices that have a proven track record of keeping America safe.”
Of course, before Bush, we had long ago abandoned such practices when we criminalized torture. However, such practices are back in vogue in the United States. In the meantime, the Attorney General continues to apply Mukasey’s paradox, here.
What is most curious is the response of Sen. Dianne Feinstein, who insisted that “We will not stop until [the ban] becomes law.” The fact is that waterboarding was already criminal. It was long defined as a war crime. However, Democrats have struggled to pretend that there is some ambiguity in the status of waterboarding to excuse their own failure to act. Feinstein is responsible for saving Mukasey’s confirmation over his refusal to recognize that waterboarding is torture — guaranteeing that neither he nor Bush would be forced to deal with the question.