Bush, GOP Senators continue standoff over terrorism bill

An increasingly defiant President George W. Bush refuses to budge in his battle to get Congress to approve the White House plan for detaining, interrogating, prosecuting and — some feel, torturing suspected terrorists. Rebellious GOP Senators, however, though, aren’t backing away from their plan either.

The president’s standoff with lawmakers is over legislation authorizing military tribunals and harsh interrogations of terror suspects that many legal experts feel violate the Geneva Convention rules that prohibit torture.

In his radio address Saturday, Bush claimed his harsh proposal provides clear rules for U.S. personnel involved in detaining and questioning alleged terrorists held by the CIA.

"The information the Central Intelligence Agency has obtained by questioning men like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed (the alleged mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks) has helped disrupt terrorist plots, including planned strikes inside the United States and on a U.S. Marine base in East Africa, an American consulate in Pakistan and Britain’s Heathrow Airport," Bush said.

"This CIA program has saved American lives, and the lives of people in other countries," he said.

The Senate Armed Services Committee defied Bush on Thursday and approved legislation the president has vowed to block.

The president’s measure would go further than the Senate measure, allowing classified evidence to be withheld from defendants in terror trials and using coerced testimony. The legislation approved by the Senate panel also would change the law that interprets the nation’s obligations under the Geneva Conventions — the treaty that sets the standard for treatment of war prisoners — so that torture of detainees would not be questioned in court.

Republican Sens. John Warner of Virginia, John McCain of Arizona and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina oppose the legislation drafted by the White House because they say barring a defendant from access to evidence — even if it’s done under rare circumstances — would undermine the credibility of the court.

Even worse, the Senators say, allowing torture of the prisoners further damages America’s already damaged credibility on the world stage.

"Weakening the Geneva protections is not only unnecessary, but would set an example to other countries, with less respect for basic human rights, that they could issue their own legislative ‘reinterpretations,’" McCain said in a statement released Friday. "This puts our military personnel and others directly at risk in this and future wars."

McCain said there is nothing in the Senate bill that would require the administration to close its CIA detainee program. He said it protects CIA interrogators from unfair exposure to criminal and civil liability and keeps intact international obligations that protect the rights of U.S. personnel.

"To do any less risks our reputation, our moral standing and the lives of those Americans who risk everything to defend our country," McCain said.

Graham, likewise, remained insistent on the Senate approach, saying his legislation accomplishes the necessary goals of protecting CIA personnel from legal liability "without destroying Geneva Convention protections."

"What is being billed as clarifying our treaty obligations will be seen as withdrawing from the treaty obligations," Graham said in a statement. "It will set precedent which could come back to haunt us."

Graham, McCain and Warner say they will continue to fight the President on the proposal and they have expressed worry privately that the President has "gone off the deep end" in straying from the protections of both the Constitution and the Geneva Convention.

"He’s fucking nuts," McCain is reported to have said at a recent gathering of Republicans in Northern Virginia outside of Washington.

Rep. Ike Skelton of Missouri, the top Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee, supports a House bill that takes the administration’s position to move the process along, but he said he will attempt to amend the measure next week to look more like the McCain-Warner-Graham measure. He said the Senate bill would be less likely to be challenged by the Supreme Court as unlawful and violating the nation’s treaty obligations.

"I don’t want to give any terrorist a free pass or get-out-of-jail-free card," Skelton said.

Deb Reichman of The Associated Press contributed parts of this article


  1. keith

    If the so-called “detainees” now incarcerated by the US military and the CIA at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere are not really “prisoners of war” (as Mr. Bush and others repeatedly and categorically assert) and therefore do not fall under the provisions of the Geneva Convention regarding humane treatment of such individuals, then why is the President and his cabal now desperately pushing so very hard for the US to “reinterpret” those provisions?

    I mean, if these “detainees” don’t now fall under the provisions of the Geneva Convention, then why all the fuss?

    It would appear that our esteemed President is, once again, talking out of both sides of his mouth.

  2. john

    “He’s fucking nuts” My, my. Whatever happened to diplomatic language? :>) Dick Cheney, apparently, has opened a pandora’s box on foul language.

  3. a knight

    What Americans do not seem to understand is what the stakes are. The detainees are either POWs, and fall under the umbrella of the Geneva Conventions, or they are held as criminal actors by the US government, and as such, remain in possession of all of their due process rights.

    This isn’t about suspected terrorists, but about the natural rights of humans, that no rightful government can abridge. If these rights are only conferred upon an American Citizen, then they are not absolute rights, but instead rights that a magnanimous state has allowed to its citizens, and they are no longer secure in our possession.

    Take these detainees into an open courtroom, and under due process of law, secure righteous convictions against them. Then, and only then, hang em high.

    To allow the government to do less, is to lose the Dreamtime America.

  4. Lysistrata

    Why do we need any change at all?

    The Geneva Convention allowes detaining, interrogating and prosecuting prisoners, in or out of uniform.

    Only harsh and inhumane treatment is unlawful.

    The young enlisted soldiers who are in prison now were said to be just bad apples, young, uneducated and poor, just trailer trash.

    Are we governed by the best educated trailer trash???

    Watching and listening to Hadley today I truely believe that.

    Morally they are much lower than any poor kid from a trailer park. What do they teach in Harvard and Yale?

    One point not mentioned is the effect torturing people has on the torturers. I would not want my child being used by my government to mistreat another human being.
    But Bush and his ilk don’t do dirty work, that is left for others to do.

  5. Alex

    Is not US reputation and moral standing already at risk because we are debating this Issue at all?

    The laws of Geneva and the US seems to have worked for nearly 60 years. What is different now other than what bush says is different?

  6. South Point Man

    Golly. Let’s make this really, really easy.

    Torture (sadism) is absolutely forbidden to everyone. Period.

    There are two things that are absolutely forbidden to everyone, everywhere, at every moment: Total egotism and sadism.

    About this there is no negotiation, no discussion, no compromise, no exceptions.

    And no one can bitterly complain about this because there is literally a decillion to the decillionth power number of things that one can do as one damn well pleases to do. That only two things are absolutely forbidden under all circumstances is no great suffering to anyone. There are plenty of things to do to keep one’s self occupied and having a good time.

    See? That completely takes care of the torture issue because it was “NO!!!” right from the beginning.

    And it should be pointed out that only evilness uses sadism or has any interest in it being used.

    Goodness doesn’t use sadism at all. Ever. Goodness can get extremely angry and mean and cranky. But it will still never use sadism. Ever.

  7. ABC Psych

    You are not right when you stated just Americans have the rights now. Americans now have rights at the pleasure of the president. There are American citizens among the “detainees” and two Americans who went to visit family in Pakistan have been refused re-entry into their own country. One of the two was born here. The other, I’m not sure about. Don’t kid yourself, we have lost our rights.