Saturday, May 13, 2006


By William Fisher

Drat! It sounded so fun.

But just as our pre-schoolers were starting to get excited about this exciting new attraction came news that it's being shut down.

The attraction that's giving our little ones all the grief is called "waterboarding."

I only wish you could have seen the light in my little granddaughter's eyes when I suggested, "Let's go waterboarding, child."

So you can imagine how disappointed she was when, without so much as a by your leave, the sponsors announced they were discontinuing this novel entertainment.

What shall we do? What shall we do? We may yet have to take our little ones to Disneyworld!

The impresario of waterboarding, you see, is the U.S. Government - the Army to be specific, and it's working on an updated edition of its field manual for interrogations. Waterboarding, they tell us, not only won't be one of the attractions - it will be banned and banished forever.

My granddaughter's dismay notwithstanding, maybe it's just as well; waterboarding is not for the faint of heart. It involves submerging one's head in water until he's sure he's going to drown.

The government has said that banning this stellar attraction isn't an admission that anyone ever used it. But if that's so, we have to wonder why the Army feels it needs to be mentioned in its new manual.

And just to make matters worse for my granddaughter, the water-boarding ban will extend to the Central Intelligence Agency and others who might be playing the game. So no CIA theme parks either. Unless they can find some way to get around it.

My granddaughter has only John McCain to blame. Last fall, the Senator introduced a new law that would ban waterboarding and similar amusements. President Bush was very cross with the Senator, but he signed the law anyway (though adding a "signing statement" that gave us hope he didn't actually intend to obey it). That law requires all American agencies to use only those fun and games specified in the Army's field manual. Waterboarding won't be one of them.

The good news for my granddaughter is that release of the new Field Manual has been delayed. The reason is that congress objects to several provisions, including one that would allow tougher fun and games for unlawful combatants than for traditional prisoners of war.

While my granddaughter won't understand this (a lot of us grown-ups don't either), the civilian leaders at the Defense Department -- who are supervising the rewriting of the new manual - believe along with the president that the Geneva Convention does not apply to terrorists or irregular fighters. They think the government should have greater latitude when they're interrogating people who refuse to play by the rules.

Others, particularly in Congress, think that creating different rules for enemy prisoners of war and irregular fighters contradicts the McCain law, which requires a "uniform standard."

I assure you my granddaughter hasn't the slightest interest in unlawful combatants versus traditional prisoners of war - or the Geneva Convention, for that matter (unless maybe it's another theme park).

What she cares about is that a bunch of grown-ups are bickering while she gets shipped off to Seven Flags.

Kids these days just can't catch a break!