Monday, February 24, 2014

Playing Politics On Torture

The Bangor Daily News, which has a history of using its coverage to advantage rather than challenge Sen. Susan Collins, for some reason makes an exception when it comes to one topic in particular: The paper has run not one, not two but three separate Op-Eds in the last four months prodding Maine's senior senator on torture.

And now the vote referenced in each of those pieces seems like it may finally be upon us:

Sens. Angus King and Susan Collins could provide the swing votes on whether to release a secret 6,000-page report that has been described as a scathing indictment of CIA interrogation techniques used against suspected terrorists.


Collins has not taken a clear stance on the issue...While she strongly opposes torture, Collins' primary goal with the Intelligence Committee report is to "ensure that the report remains a tool for meaningful oversight and that it does not become a political issue that can be used by either party," according to a staffer in her office. (Emphasis added.)

Collins's position makes a certain amount of sense...until you actually think about it.

Certainly it's laudable--and probably imperative--for an investigation on a topic as serious as torture to avoid any hint of partisan slant. But the report has already been written, so that's not the question in front of the committee and it's not what Collins's (weirdly anonymous) spokesman is talking about.

Rather, the point being made by the Collins camp in the second bolded clause is about the report's impact--specifically the worry that it will yield partisan advantage to one side or the other. That's what it means when you say your "primary goal" is not to let the report become "a political issue."

But letting the political implications of a report outweigh the public interest in transparency and accountability isn't rising above partisan concerns. It's the essence of playing politics.

It means letting considerations about who gains and loses politically dictate what should and shouldn't be revealed to the American people.

Such a politically-focused approach would allow the crassest of calculations to factor into Senate oversight decisions. It requires salient information to be suppressed simply because somebody--anybody--might reap political benefit from its publication.

That is, of course, an extremely cramped vision of legislative oversight. Once spelled out, it's hard to take seriously.

Whether this is merely a talking point being floated by Collins (whose record indicates a willingness to abide torture) or a true reflection of her philosophy (which would explain her timid approach to Iraq war oversight during the Bush administration) is impossible to know.

But it hardly matters.

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