It seems that the American people stand in stark contrast to the Bush Administration when it comes to humane treatment. The evidence of this comes as both the House and Senate resoundingly denied the administration any further leg to stand on when it comes to torture. Bills passing in both houses roundly, and rightly, condemn the use of torture and make it a crime for any military or civilian government employee to engage in interrogation that includes the use of torture as a tool. The Bush administration, after spending much time and making much noise, particularly from VP Cheney, supporting the use of torture as necessary (without really admitting they were pro-torture) did an about face when faced with overwhelming opposition from even its own party and ceded the point. No longer will U.S. interrogation policy allow torture as a means of gaining information.

On the surface, this seems to be a victory for decency and real American values. We have long held ourselves to be a nation of freedom and the rule of law, and this repudiation of such vile behavior in our name shows the world that it is not average Americans they need to be wary of, just the out of control leadership in the White House. Still, this is just one small victory. Indeed, if CIA operatives continue to farm out suspected terrorists to other nations for questioning, the issue becomes one of semantics only. The next step is for legislators to pass laws that forbid us from sending our captives to “ally nations” that would subject them to the same treatment we claim to abhor so much.

In other news, Iraqi citizens are exercising their voices in the first democratic election that country has seen in decades, if ever. In numbers that put our own political processes to shame, nearly 70% of eligible Iraqi voters have turned out to elect their first parliament. Imagine if 70% of American citizens felt so strongly about democracy that they turned out for our own elections. We’d actually have a better chance at a representative government in this country too.

But back to Iraq. The Bush administration will claim that this election validates their most recent justification for pre-emptive war. They will claim that the lack of widespread violence on Election Day is a testament to the fact that their plan is working. If the post election results return and violence continues to abate, many of their supporters will use that as evidence that this was the right war at the right time despite the president’s own admissions that the reasons given for going to war were false. But the truth may not be so cut and dry. And the success of these elections may in fact reflect more of a desire on the part of Iraqi’s for us to leave their country than anything else.

Despite administration claims that insurgents are foreign fighters imported to fuel the flames of the al-Qaeda jihad, many reports show that the insurgency is more home grown and in a large part due to the continued presence of American soldiers on Iraqi soil. Indeed, the president continues to reiterate the message loudly that we will stay until “the job is done.” That job is variously described in terms of having successful elections in Iraq, training Iraqi’s to defend themselves from terrorist and foreign attacks, or rebuilding the Iraqi economy. With this successful election, Iraqi’s are meeting the administration head on to see if they will do as they say.

What remains to be seen now is whether the U.S. will follow through with our end of the deal and begin to return some autonomy to the Iraqi government and their people. If we are to be true to our word, we must now set our own aims firmly behind those of the Iraqi government. We must become their tool, not their master. We must seek to withdraw our own forces as they ramp up their own. We must desist from getting involved with their internal affairs even as we assist them in rooting out the real terrorists in their midst. As Iraqi’s of all stripe engage in the political process and refute their guns in favor of their voices, America must prepare to pull out and let them handle the hard work of building a more free society.

Meanwhile, our own democracy takes more hits from the very people charged with defending it. Announcements today of President Bush authorizing the NSA to eavesdrop on domestic phone calls and e-mails sent abroad in the months following 9-11 have the administration looking for another table to hide under. Such actions, engaged without the necessary court orders, are in clear violation of U.S. law and mark another instance when this administration views itself to be beyond the law of the land. Republicans were quick to denounce any misdeed of the Clinton administration, going so far as to impeach the man for marital infidelities (though they focused on the lie he told about the acts as their basis for impeachment), but so far remain silent at best on the myriad wrongdoings of the Bush bunch. How the conservative citizen can continue to support a man who ran on principals of integrity, honesty, and political compassion is beyond me, especially in light of the absurdity of those claims with each new revelation coming out of Washington. Clearly, this is one of the most verifiably corrupt administrations to appear in some time.

Fortunately, those elected to the Senate and House are beginning to recognize that average citizens are tiring of the bullying nature of the administration, the deliberate obfuscations and rationalizations, and their outright lies. Today also marked the Senate’s refusal to extend many portions of the Patriot Act that most infringed on the civil liberties of law-abiding citizens. Unfettered access to the private reading, shopping, and conversation habits of American citizens, and so called “sneak and peak” searches without reasonable cause and court orders are not necessary tools in the war on terror, despite administration claims to the contrary. And the reports issued today about the activities of the NSA, at the president’s own direction, show that this is a government that can’t be trusted to respect freedom and liberty here at home.

Repudiating torture is a good thing. It shows that American’s still believe in humane treatment for even our enemies. This is one thing that separates us from them. Repudiating invasive spying and the trampling of civil rights by our own government against us is a good thing. It shows our government that we aren’t willing to sacrifice our freedoms in the struggle to be safer. This is what separates true patriots from paper tigers. And a high election turn out in Iraq is a good thing. It sets the stage for the U.S. to begin removing ourselves from what will ultimately be an Iraqi issue- the future of their country.