Armed Services Committe makes fundamental error
see "Senate Committee Rebuffs Bush on Terror Tribunals" (Bloomberg News, 9/15/06)
I have been a critic of President Bush's attitude surrounding executive power in the context of the war on terror. His position seems essentially to be that since it is a war without borders and with few other limits either he can do almost anything he wants which he claims to be part of fighting that war. I strongly disagree with that type of argument and have some sympathy with arguments that his attempt to expand the power of the President eats away at the separation of powers which is fundamental to our Republic.
However, this does not mean Bush is always wrong on legal issues surrounding the war. Thursday provided a case in point as Senate Armed Services Committee, led by Republicans John McCain, John Warner, and Lindsey Graham, passed a bill out of the Committee which directly contradicts Bush's position on treatment and trial of terrorist captives.
The Bill would effectively give terrorist captives protection under the Geneva Conventions, allow them to see classified evidence against them, and "bar statements obtained through torture or inhumane treatment."
The only part of that I agree with is barring statments obtained through torture. As part of the discussion surrouding this issue, the President wanted to clarify "the terms ``cruel, inhumane and degrading'' in describing treatment barred by Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. Bush seeks to define the treaty as barring ``severe physical or mental pain'' and ``severe physical abuse.''"
Bush's position here is exactly right. The terrorists are not entitled to Geneva Convention protections. To the degree that we must do something because of the incorrect Supreme Court ruling on the issue, we should do the minimum possible to comply. And, as Condi Rice said, where such treaty requirements are vague, we have a right to interpret them in any reasonable way we see fit. Indeed, we should interpret them in the way least generous to those whose motive is to destroy us.
The disappointing (and apparently disappointed) Colin Powell weighed in with a letter to John McCain saying that "The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism". Powell, along with McCain and friends miss the point: The ultimate "moral basis" of our fight against terrorism, in fact the moral basis for the very existence of government, is the protection of our citizens' lives.
The people (and I use that term loosely) whom we are discussing here would never offer such niceties as Geneva Convention protections to Americans they capture; we have seen enough beheadings to understand that...unless you are McCain, Warner, Graham, Susan Collins, or a Democrat.
The idea that our "reinterpreting" the Conventions in this area would leave our soldiers vulnerable to poor treatment later is a red herring.
But even if it were true, it's hard to care. What good is language that protects soldiers of a country which no longer exists? Yes, that is a bit of hyperbole, but you get my point: Government does many things, most of which it has no authority to do. What it does have authority and true responsibility for is to defend us. Giving terrorists the rights of Americans is the last thing in the world we need to do.
These Senators and Colin Powell have turned the thing on its head. Here are the right answers:
1) Bush's position on these issues does not weaken our "moral authority".
2)If someone thinks it does, I say "who cares?". Protect my life first and deal with your genteel qualms after we're safe. (I am a strong civil libertarian, but Bush's position on these issues does not threaten the liberties of Americans; I am not shy to oppose him where it does.)
3) And most importantly, the Committee's actions demonstrate clear weakness to an enemy who understands nothing but brute force.
On a domestic note, this action gives Republican voters one more reason to stay at home in November. Strength against terrorists is one of the only areas in which the public still has more confidence in Republicans than in Democrats. The actions of these four Armed Services Committee Republicans are an attack on their own Party and American citizens everywhere.
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