Yes, the NY Times gets it. But it's not telling the whole truth.
The truth is that the United States government is presently holding, torturing, and even murdering countless numbers of people who have no chance in hell of obtaining a lawyer, let alone anything resembling a trial. The government is doing this under the direct orders of George W. Bush. There is no law, no bill, and no legislature who can stop him. If Congress were to pass a law unequivocably banning torture and send it to him, he'd use it for toilet paper. If the Supreme Court were to rule against Bush in the harshest and bluntest language, he'd yawn.
The truth is that there is a rogue presidency and there has been, since January, 2001 (earlier, if you count the stolen election). Certainly, everyone in Washington knows it, but no one dares to admit it. The bill legalizing torture merely enables Congress to pretend they still have some influence over an executive that from day one was governing, not as if they had a mandate, but as if Bush was a dictator. If, for some miracle, the bill didn't pass, every congress-critter knows Bush would keep on torturing.
Better to vote to pass and preserve the appearance of a working American government, the thinking goes. For the very thought that the US government is seriously broken - that the Executive is beyond the control of anyone and everyone in the world - is such a truly awesome and terrifying thought that it can never be publicly acknowledged. If ever it is, if the American crisis gets outed and Congress and the Supremes openly assert that the Executive has run completely amok and is beyond control, the world consequences are staggering. It is the stuff of doomsday novels.
And this brings up the dilemma of a post Nov. 7 world. Apparently, one if not both houses of Congress may be controlled by Democrats. Now what? You think Bush is gonna get impeached? Put on trial for war crimes? Forget it. You think they're gonna repeal the pro-torture law they're about to pass? You can almost certainly forget that, too. Remember: it is crucial to maintain the illusion that Congress still has some say, as it was in November of 2002 about the Bush/Iraq war.
If, for some reason, Congress does decide to move against Bush in some substantive way, there will be hell to pay. Those of us who well remember Watergate remember that while it was genuinely thrilling to have Nixon caught, disgraced, and removed, it was also a time of extreme tension. Would Nixon tough the impeachment trial out, causing the country incalculable harm? It looked for quite a long time that he would. About Bush, there is no doubt.
Since the day after the 2000 election, Bush and his goons have been playing chicken with the very structure of the United States Government, double-daring anyone to try and stop them. If Congress does try - and I'm not talking little things like wrecking Social Security, that'll happen and a dictator can afford to let things like that wait a while, I'm talking atomic bang bang and thumbscrews - he will force the private Constitutional crisis into the open. And there is no guarantee that Bush will lose.
And that is the truth. The Congress has been given an awful choice: Vote to approve torture and the suspension of habeas or show the world that yes, you really do have no genuine power to check Bush. --Tristero at Hullabaloo
If you don't think this describes our situation and the enormity of what we are currently going through, give me a good solid argument why it's an exaggeration. If it is an accurate description, why is there such complacency about it?
What we are seeing happening here is profoundly significant, and most Americans are yawning, turning over, and it's back to sleep. Sorry if that sounds condescending, but we are in the midst of the most significant and frightening shifts in our history, and it's as if we're having the experience, but missing the meaning. The long-term consequences are truly horrifying. We're going to wake up five years hence, know what it means then, and it will be too late.
It's not possible to be too alarmist about this. Prove me wrong. Allay my fears. Calm me down. Because we are in big, big trouble, and so is the rest of the world, if things go down in Washington the way they look as though they will.
Update: Read this LA Times piece by Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman as well. Key line:
"What is worse, if the federal courts support the president's initial detention decision, ordinary Americans would be required to defend themselves before a military tribunal without the constitutional guarantees provided in criminal trials."
If Congress doesn't stand up to the administration now, who will be able to stand up to him in the future? What's to prevent the arbitrary arrest of anyone--including journalists and bloggers--whose opinions are deemed seditious or a security threat? Why does anybody think it's going to stop here? Why should it?