Updated twice: America legalizes torture; Dems get played badly

This afternoon, the White House announced that a tentative deal had been struck with the Senate GOP "rebels" -- McCain, Warner and Graham -- that will basically continue the status quo on prisoner detentions and "coercive" interrogations. McCain, it appears, set up the Dems and the media most deftly, and then turned around and sold out America's values for a few primary votes in 2008.

Another measure passed the House that would essentially authorize the administration's formerly illegal domestic surveillance program. Both bills are headed for the Senate -- the detention compromise would then need to go back to the House -- and both are likely to bite Democrats hard on the ass come November no matter which way they vote.

The details of the deal remain somewhat murky. Bush is pleased, saying: "this agreement preserves the single most potent tool we have in protecting America and foiling terrorist attacks." McCain wouldn't say exactly what the White House had conceded, but the AP reports that the administration dropped its attempts to "redefine" Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions, which bars "humiliating treatment and outrages upon personal dignity." McCain said only that "there is no doubt that the integrity and letter and spirit of the Geneva Conventions have been preserved."

The other sticking points were whether suspects would have access to classified evidence against them in "civilian status review commissions," and whether evidence gained through coercion -- including through the use of techniques long considered to be torture by human right groups --could be admitted. Graham said that there was a provision that would allow suspects access to classified evidence -- and what evidence won't be classified? -- if they are at risk of imprisonment or death, but an administration spokesman said they were interpreting that with a "high bar" and it wouldn't be automatic. Digby says a new JAG office will be formed to review classified evidence. I didn't see any mention about the use of evidence gained through "rough interrogation."

As I pointed out earlier this week, this is a compromise between two bad -- terribly bad and unnecessary -- bills. It was passed at gunpoint, with the administration threatening to discontinue coercive interrogations if they didn't get their way and nobody in the political class willing to call their bluff (remember, more than half of those being held are thought to be innocent and experts are pretty much in agreement that torture doesn't work anyway).

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