AUSTIN, Texas -- On one of those television gong shows that passes for journalism, the panelists used to have to pick an Outrage of the Week. Then, each performer would wax indignant about his or choice for 60 seconds or so. If someone asked me to name the Outrage of the Week about now, I'd have a coronary. How could anyone possibly choose?

I suppose the frontrunner is the anti-torture amendment. Sen. John McCain proposed an amendment to the military appropriations bill that would prohibit "cruel, inhuman or degrading" treatment of prisoners in the custody of the U.S. military.

This may strike you as a "goes without saying" proposition -- the amendment passed the Senate 90 to nine. The United States has been signing anti-torture treaties under Democrats and Republicans for at least 50 years. But the Bush administration actually managed to find some weasel words to create a loophole in this longstanding commitment to civilized behavior.

According to the Bushies, if the United States is holding a prisoner on foreign soil, our soldiers can still subject him or her to cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment -- the very forms of torture used by the soldiers who were later prosecuted for their conduct at Abu Ghraib. Does this make any sense, moral or common?

So deeply does President Bush feel our country, despite all its treaty commitments, has a right to torture that he has threatened to veto the bill if it passes. This would the first time in five years he has ever vetoed anything. Think about it: Five years of stupefying pork, ideological nonsense, dumb administrative ideas, fiscal idiocy, misbegotten energy programs -- and the first thing the man vetoes is a bill to pay our soldiers because it carries an amendment saying, once again, that this country does not torture prisoners.

This is the United States of America. It is our country, not George W. Bush's personal property. The United States of America still stands for the rights of man, for freedom, dignity and justice. We do not torture helpless prisoners. Our soldiers are not the SS, not the North Vietnamese who tortured McCain and others for years on end, not bestial Argentinean fascists, not the Khmer Rouge.

Remember, we invaded Iraq because Saddam Hussein was such a horrible brute that he tortured people. This is beyond disgusting. The House Republicans, which have no shame, will try to weaken McCain's amendment. They need to hear from decent Republicans all over this country. Don't leave this hideous stain on your party's name. This is NOT what America stands for. We've had more loathsome and more dangerous enemies than Al-Qaida and managed to defeat them without resorting to torture.

And leading the charge in the House will be Tom DeLay, that pillar of moral rectitude and Christian mercy. Wait a minute: Didn't DeLay have to step down from his leadership position after he got indicted? Well, yes, but some step-downs are more down than others. There was The Hammer in full glory last Friday, twisting arms and working the floor on behalf of a real cutie of a bill to benefit the oil companies.

Even Republicans revolted. As Rep. Sherwood Boehlert said, "We are enriching people, but we are not doing anything to give the little guy a break." This bill was so awful the leadership had to hold the vote open for 40 minutes, a clear violation of House rules -- there's a five-minute limit on votes of this kind -- while the Republican leaders roamed the floor, cajoling, bullying and threatening.

I have become inured to Bush's idea of foreign policy, which is to tell the rest of the world, "Kiss my behind." But the policy does result in some lovely ironies. On Friday, Mohamed ElBaradei, the highly respected head of the United Nation's International Atomic Energy Agency, won the Nobel Peace Prize. Quite apart from whether you support George Bush or not, ElBaradei and the IAEA deserve the honor -- they have been both diligent and effective.

ElBaradei was right when he repeatedly warned the Bush administration Iraq did not have any weapons of mass destruction and has said the day the United States invaded "was the saddest in my life."

But you know our boy George: not for him the gracious, "Gee, you were right, and we wrong after all." Nope, after ElBaradei was proved right, Bush tried to have him fired. And the man in charge of carrying out the campaign to have the guy fired for being right? John Bolton, now our ambassador to the United Nations.

Liar of the week: George W. Bush said on his Saturday radio address a week and a half ago that Iraq has 100 battalions of battle-ready soldiers. By the time he got to his television address on Thursday, it was 80 battalions. (I guess it's worse to lie if they're taking pictures of you.) Unfortunately, the next day Gen. George Casey, who oversees U.S. forces in Iraq, said of those 80, the number of Iraqi battalions fit to fight independently of U.S. support had slipped from three to one. One, three, 80, 100 -- if this is Tuesday, it must be ...

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