Well, FINALLY. Well past time for the man to show some spine. Pity he didn't do it while he was still Secretary of State.
A Republican-controlled Senate committee dealt a blow to President Bush's national security agenda Thursday, approving a bill that would expand the legal rights of terrorism detainees. The rebuke capped a day of bruising political combat in which Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) released a letter from Colin L. Powell, the president's former secretary of State, opposing Bush's proposal to allow more extreme methods of interrogation.
[...] Powell's broad criticism of Bush's approach to terrorism surprised many in Washington. And the rebuff to the White House by the Senate Armed Services Committee was a remarkable setback for Bush, who had seemed to be strengthening his political position in debate over national security policy. Over the last week, the president had thrown Democrats on the defensive with a series of hard-hitting speeches on terrorism as his allies tried to cast doubt about whether Democrats were tough enough to meet the threat. A Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll released Thursday showed that Bush's overall approval rating and marks on handling the war in Iraq had risen modestly. But Thursday began with the president heading to Capitol Hill to rally his GOP troops and ended with the military tribunal fight that pitted Bush against senior members of his own party and against Powell.
Bush's allies released their own letters of support for the administration plan — including one from Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and another from a group of five top military lawyers, some of whom previously opposed measures that are part of the president's proposal....
2 Views of Geneva Accord
From the Associated Press
September 15, 2006
Excerpts from letters, released Thursday, from former Secretary of State Colin L. Powell and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on detainee legislation.
Dear Senator [John] McCain:
I just returned to town and learned about the debate taking place in Congress to redefine Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. I do not support such a step and believe it would be inconsistent with the McCain amendment on torture which I supported last year.
I have read the powerful and eloquent letter sent to you by one [of] my distinguished predecessors as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Jack Vessey. I fully endorse in tone and tint his powerful argument. The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism. To redefine Common Article 3 would add to those doubts. Furthermore, it would put our own troops at risk.
I am as familiar with "The Armed Forces Officer" as is Jack Vessey. It was written after all the horrors [of] World War II and General George C. Marshall, then Secretary of Defense, used it to tell the world and to remind our soldiers of our moral obligations with respect to those in our custody.
Colin L. Powell
Dear Mr. Chairman [Sen. John W. Warner]:
… Our international partners expect that we will undertake good faith interpretations of the [Geneva] Conventions' text, consistent with their object and purpose. In a case where the treaty's terms are inherently vague, it is appropriate for a state to look to its own legal framework, precedents, concepts and norms in interpreting these terms and carrying out its international obligations. Such practice in the application of a treaty is an accepted reference point in international law. The proposed legislation would strengthen U.S. adherence to Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions because it would add meaningful definition and clarification to vague terms in the treaties.
In the [State] department's view, there is not, and should not be, any inconsistency with respect to the substantive behavior that is prohibited in paragraphs (a) and (c) of Section 1 of Common Article 3 and the behavior that is prohibited as "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment," as that phrase is defined in the U.S. reservation to the Convention Against Torture….
The Department of State supports this legislation and we believe it will help demonstrate to our international partners that we are committed to compliance with Common Article 3.
Rice's support can be summarily dismissed. After all, she hasn't show any sign of opposing any of this administration's illegal incentives. The support from the military lawyers is rather surprising; I would have thought that they'd have difficulties with the rules of evidence. Courts martial, for example, for all that they reverse the presumption of innocence to a presumption of guilt, don't allow the goverment to hid the evidence against the accused; why would the military lawyers support a lesser standard than that?
Nonetheless, it's nice to see Powell discover that there are things that this administration does that he opposes enough to speak out against. In some ways, this counts for a bit more in people's eyes precisely because he didn't speak out in opposition to anything when he was secretary; that said, it might have prevented some of the past few years' disasters if he had.
What I suspect is going to happen is that the Senate will pass McCain's Powell-supported bill, the House will pass Bush's "we love torture! yes we do!" bill, and the conference committees will be unable to come to an agreement, so that nothing at all gets passed. And, honestly, I'm not sure that's actually a bad outcome for the president, unfortunately. It allows him to paint the Democrats in Congress as obstreperous and uncooperative (ignoring the fact that it's the Republicans causing all the problems) while not producing a law that would almost certainly -- eventually -- be struck down by the Supreme Court as unresponsive to its previous decision on the matter. He could cheerfully hand this issue off to his successor, who is going to have a myriad of gruesome issues greet them when they come into office anyway. Unfortunately, another case of gridlock on this issue would be a horrible outcome for the people stranded in Guantanamo.Posted by iain at September 15, 2006 04:50 PM