Go, Senate Republicans, Go

Senate panel rejects Bush anti-terrorism plan

A rebellious Senate committee defied President Bush on Thursday and approved terror-detainee legislation he has vowed to block, deepening Republican conflict over terrorism and national security in the middle of election season… Republican Sen. John Warner of Virginia, normally a Bush supporter, pushed the measure through his Armed Services Committee by a 15-9 vote, with Warner and three other GOP lawmakers joining Democrats. The vote set the stage for a showdown on the Senate floor as early as next week.

A nice reminder for those of us who don’t typically think well of the GOP that some of folks in that camp really are saying “enough” to the president when it comes to his fetish for pointless authoritarianism for the sake of pointless authoritarianism. We can argue whether they’re doing it because of political triangulation away from an unpopular president in an election year, because they want to remind the administrative branch that the legislative branch is a co-equal branch of government, or because they believe that Bush’s policies are morally repugnant and not at all in keeping with the national charater or Constitution. Or some combination of the three; it’s rarely just one thing.

Thing is, on one level, I don’t actually care which of these it is. What I care about is that we’re steadily and increasingly moving away from the “president as king” model of government this administration has been cultivating lo these last six years. We’re getting closer to what we’re supposed to be: questioning our leaders, even and especially when they don’t want us to. This is a result worth having. If certain Republicans are an instrument of this, all I can say to that is: Thank you, senators. I appreciate it.

52 Comments on “Go, Senate Republicans, Go”

  1. It’s about damn time someone shortened this egomaniac’s leash. Of course, I also think it’s simple politicking on the part of the Right to try and take steps to save their jobs before the midterm elections; and, once the elections are over, I’m certain those who do keep their seats will no doubt go back to kissing Bush’s ass.

  2. They’re saying “enough” as in “I won’t get ‘enough’ votes this November unles I distance myself from this ass clown the system barfed up.”

  3. Surely one of the magnificent things about our Constitutional system is that it doesn’t matter which of the three it is. James Madison set the thing up to be self-correcting like that—when a President gets to be as unpopular as this one, he can’t shove his policies down the Congress, because they will fight back out of self-preservation and ambition, of not out of conviction.

    I mean, Mr. Madison didn’t actually object to principles, he just wasn’t going to set up a government that only worked if people acted on them.


  4. Go, James Madison, GO!

    Gotta love a politician who assumes the worst about our elected officials and puts a system in place that manipulates such self-serving hypocrisy to the benefit of the shmoes on the bottom of the food chain.

  5. I still can’t believe that we’re having an argument to go back toward barbarism. And in all the flufaw, I think the House passed a bill that was pretty much what the President asked for. Everybody is going to get used to hearing the term, “Conference Committee” RSN.

  6. Yeah, I think reality is only setting in because they see the villagers at the gate with their torches and pitchforks.

    Still, it’s nice to see them say FEGG ORFF!!!

  7. “I don’t actually care which of these it is.”

    You should care. If their only motivation is trying to win on November 7th, come November 8th what’s to stop them from rolling right back over again? They know that six years from now this will be mostly forgotten.

  8. Well, that’s why appended the “in one sense” before that statement, John H. However, my suspicions is that in the case of Warner, McCain, and Graham, that’s not the case, if for no other reason than I don’t think any of them are up for re-elections this cycle.

  9. One question: and maybe someone out there with a military background will know:

    Doesn’t the Geneva Convention make a distinction between uniformed regular troops and un-uniformed ones, who are usually classified as “spies.”

    The tradition seems to be that uniformed soldiers are to be treated humanely when captured, but spies can be dealt with at the end of the rope. (I think this was true in the Second World War as well.)

    If this is true–then terrorists who are “undercover” in this country for the purpose of committing attacks against civilians would not fall under the Geneva Convention.

    Anyone out there know?

  10. The only one of the four GOP defectors facing reelection this year is Snowe, and she’s expected to win in a walk.

    I don’t know about Graham, but I can’t imagine a scenario (barring something totally wacko-out-of-character) in which McCain and Warner don’t get reelected the next time they’re up.

  11. Snowe has always been on the far moderate side of Republican, so this isn’t a recent development for her. She’s from Maine. Even some of the liberals there vote for her and Susan Collins, the other Maine senator and another moderate Republican. (I should know — I used to be one of those liberals.) They don’t follow the party line; they follow what Mainers want. And Mainers are weird.

  12. I’m a Mainer… and while I’ll admit to being wierd, I’m not so sure I’d completely agree with the moderate label for Collins and Snowe

    anymore… while they do occasionally buck the trends, they have backed this administration far more than not, including many big debate items.

  13. John H

    It was actually the other female Republican Senator from Maine, Susan Collins. (Easy to get them confused.) Her term isn’t up until 2008.


    How do you know if civilians you picked up are “spies”? The UCMJ is pretty clear on what the military can do to find out, but what “alternative methods” can be the CIA use? Can they hold them under water until they pass out? Hang them from their arms for days at a time? Freeze them until they die of hypothermia? (Ideally of course you don’t want them to die, but accidents happen.) The debate is over whether that should be allowed. Geneva clearly and definitely says “No.” Bush is trying to find a workaround.

  14. Greg, I think the main question concerns that not all of the people at Gitmo were taken from the battlefield. There is evidence that at least one person there had been turned in by future in-laws who didn’t want the marriage to continue. With the addition of those who were “Rendered” to different countries for both the CIA Secret Prisons and to foreign custody for torture, the picure is even murkier. While it’s been widely reported/speculated that some people released from Gitmo have been re-apprehended, the only case made public was proved to be a case of mistaken identity (same name as a previous detainee).

    Greg, it’s been a long time since I was in uniform but let me give it a go. For people captured in the act of spying during armed conflict, you are correct, they have very few protections (and are subject to summary execution). But that is different than non-uniformed actors for a non-recognized state or organization in armed combat, captured combatants (non-uniformed), rendered (read this as military arrest sans combat), or civilian arrests turned over to military custody. Or to put another way, once they are captured or taken into custody, they fall under our Military Code of Conduct, which includes the Geneva Conventions.

    If you wish to simply classify them as spies, let’s save ourselves the cost of trials and custody and just shoot them in the field. I don’t agree with it, I’m just pointing it out.

  15. Greg;

    Regarding the Geneva Conventions, it gets terribly complicated really quickly. Article 4 of the 3rd Convention (the relevant chunk) requires that, to obtain POW status, you must meet a number of conditions, including having a “fixed distinctive sign recognizable at a distance.”

    It also says that, when in doubt, you must treat people as POWs until determined otherwise “by a competent tribunal.”

    If you DON’T meet Article 4 conditions, you can be treated in whatever manner the country holding you sees fit. In the US, the Supreme Court ruled in 1942 that several Nazi agents (not in uniform) who infiltrated the US could be tried and executed (and several were) by the US Military.

    The issue facing Congress is “what is the definition of ‘competent tribunal'” under the Geneva Conventions.

    (all data from Wikipedia.)

  16. No, no significant challenges on the horizon for Collins. And it’s very nice to know the people in question aren’t up for re-election this season.

    I’d argue that Collins and Snowe are moderate as compared to the rest of the Senate Republicans. However, I should note that I moved out of Maine a couple years ago, and haven’t been following things as closely.

  17. Being an independent, I don’t generally post on political items, but I have to admit I did a little happy dance when I saw this in the news.

    Two people I admire a lot, Colin Powell (I know, I know, he lost a lot of street cred when he was Sec. of State, but I still like him) and John McCain, are involved in this, which gives it more moral fiber than I’d usually credit a politial action.

  18. Chris Gerrib

    “If you DON’T meet Article 4 conditions, you can be treated in whatever manner the country holding you sees fit.”

    Sorry, that’s just flat wrong. Article 3 talks about what can be done to “Persons taking no active part in the hostilities.” There’s lots of stuff you can’t do, including: “(a) violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture.”

    “In the US, the Supreme Court ruled in 1942…” Note that we’re talking about the Geneva Convention of 1949.

  19. Chang here. Also a Mainer.

    Weird… sometimes. But Snowe and Collins as Q pointed out, have supported Bush from way back. Don’t like ’em. And the republican running for Governor here is named Chandler Woodcock. I mean, come on!!!

  20. McCain has been pretty consistent about this. It’s true that he’s no pal of Bush, but he’s been anti-torture all along. I don’t think any election would change his view on that.

  21. Jon Marcus

    “Persons taking no active part in the hostilities.”

    That’s really the question, isn’t it. Leaving aside the question of how “Detainees” are treated, I believe the first question needs to be whether or not they were taking an active part in hostilities.

    Who are the “Detainees”? Who accused them? What were they accused of? I don’t know the answer to any of these questions.

    I’d feel more comfortable holding “detainees” indefinitely if I had confidence they had actually commited some offense. I’m not saying they didn’t, just that I have very little confidence in the people telling me they did.

    As to the Geneva Convention’s stand on the treatment of spys, there’s nothing explicitely stated. By ommission, the convention does not claim they’d have the protections of the convention, but nowhere is there an affirmative permission to do horrible things to them (such as tape them to a cat….oops, I digress).

  22. Collins is generally assumed to be Snowe-light, and as such her local support is neither as broad nor as deep. I would not be at all surprised to see Collins challenged by Tom Allen (1st district Rep) and if so, she’ll have quite a time of it.

  23. Jon Marcus – well, the Geneva Conventions specifically allow you to shoot saboteurs. They also do not apply to combatants who do not meet certain specific criteria (like “clearly distinguishing marks”). Visit this site (the same site you referred me to, it’s the index) and look up “sabotage” and “combatants.”

    Also, the 1949 Conventions do not specifically override the 1942 Supreme Court decision. The 1949 Convention was a re-write and update of the 1929 original.

    Not to add fuel to the fire, but the Geneva Conventions are clearly written to apply to war between States. Since the Taliban was not a state, and Al Queda isn’t a state, and none of these “combatants” meet even the minimal requirements of the Convention, there is a legitimate argument that they don’t apply.

    I don’t like that argument, but it’s not beyond reason or logic. I agree with you and our host that Congress, not the President unilaterally, needs to step in and make a decision.

    Frankly, I also think that the international community needs to look at a better way to define terrorists. The Neilson Haydens had a link on their site suggesting that we treat terrorists with the same legal framework as piracy.

  24. So, are we torturing detainees until they tell us whether or not they were “taking an active part in the hostilities?”

  25. Dan,

    I get your point. This whole area has always had the smell of the Salem witchcraft trials to me, although now on a global stage.

    You’ve got the Y2K event triggering global fear to the point that ‘kill the witches’ becomes appealing to people.

    So you catch the witches and submit them to horrible tests because they are witches and you can get them to admit they are witches ultimately proving you were correct.

    Obviously my chain of logic above is faulty but it does provide comfort (well, unless you are a witch) during a time of fear.

  26. Chris Gerrib

    “…none of these “combatants” meet even the minimal requirements of the Convention, there is a legitimate argument that they don’t apply.

    I don’t like that argument, but it’s not beyond reason or logic.”

    You’re right, there’s a reasonable debate to be had on this subject where there can be legitimate opposing views. Unfortunately, I don’t think our government is capable of having that reasonable debate. With the exception of a few politicians (mentioned upthread), and/or our current situation (mid-term elections coming with an unpopular President in office), Republicans and Democrats will continue to operate like Bizzaro-Word versions of each other; taking their positions only because they must oppose the other. And anyone on either side who doesn’t tow the party line is gonna get bitch-slapped faster than you can say “Joe Lieberman”.

    BTW, Thanks for that link. I was looking at a site with the full text and no helpful index to topics.

  27. Actually, to make my thought more complete, Y2K heated the bottle of diet Coke and removed the lid and 9/11 dropped the Menthos into it.

  28. McCain is a media whore. He’ll get his comeuppance from the media if he’s ever the Rep candidate for President (all his behavior can be explained in that context) as contrasted with opposing the current Rep President.

  29. Chris Gerrib

    I agree the Conventions do let countries shoot saboteurs. But that’s a far cry from saying they let you do whatever you want with anyone who doesn’t qualify under Article 4.

    Also, the 1929 Conventions didn’t cover civilians, so the 1949 addition of civilian coverage would at least have some effect on the 1942 court decision regarding civilians.

    There may be an argument on whether the Conventions should apply. But as a matter of US law, the SCOTUS has ruled they do. They’re the final word on how laws & treaties are interpreted. So unless we decide to abrogate the Conventions, they apply here.

    But this is all beside the point. No one’s talking about what to do with proven war criminals. The discussion is about how to treat people we capture before we know what they may be guilty of.

    Bush says it’s okay to use for the CIA to use “alternative procedures” on them. (Although he won’t say what those are because it’d completely reveal the emptiness of his repeated claims that “we do not torture.”) It looks like the Senate disagrees. Thank God.

  30. Jon – When I said “do whatever” I wasn’t trying to be literal. What I meant was that, under the Geneva Conventions, non-uniformed combatants get very little in the way of protection.

    Not a lawyer, but my understanding of the recent SCOTUS decisions is that, absent Congress saying different, the Executive has to assume the Conventions apply. Thus the debate in Congress.

  31. Chris

    Mmmm…uniformed combatants are prisoners of war. They only have to tell you “name rank and serial number” get three squares a day, etc, etc. And their acts are not subject to normal criminal punishment. (E.g. A combat engineer who blows up a bridge can’t be shot as a a saboteur.)

    Non-uniformed combatants are treated as civilians. They can be convicted of crimes, but they do have a bunch of protections. Not as much as POWs, but all of Article 4 applies.

    Re Hamdan. Per Marty Lederman, who’s done some pretty good analysis on Hamdan (and who’s views I tend to share):

    Common Article 3 of Geneva aplies as a matter of treaty obligation to the conflict against Al Qaeda. (See also the AMK concurrence: “The provision is part of a treaty the United States has ratified and thus accepted as binding law. By Act of Congress, moreover, violations of Common Article 3 are considered ‘war crimes,’ punishable as federal offenses, when committed by or against United States nationals and military personnel. See 18 U. S. C. § 2441.”)

    My translation: It’s a treaty we’ve signed and ratified, so it’s law.

  32. “The Neilson Haydens had a link on their site suggesting that we treat terrorists with the same legal framework as piracy.”

    Which means come Tuesday, they’ll out themselves by saying “Arrr, matey!”

    (Yes, Talk Like A Pirate Day is upon us again, ye landlubbin’ bastards!)

  33. Democracy is one of the most slow, inefficient, and bulky systems of government that exists. It would be the worst form of government, except for all the rest; both a blessing and a curse. Thank God for two term limits!

  34. Listening to the news tonight, I heard Bush’s defense of his bill which essentially sounded like a parent scolding naughty children: if you don’t do as I say, well, we’re just going to have to stop the CIA from doing its job–and where will that leave us, huh? Which, if he means he will have to stop the CIA from using torture sounds like a good thing. Or if he means that he will stop using the CIA altogether to work against terrorists, sounds to me like a really stupid empty threat. You’d think with all the crafty people on his team, they’d come up with a better argument.

  35. Besides the Reference Guide to the Geneva Conventions site, folks might find it interesting to look at a publication showing how the US government promoted and interpreted them back in the Vietnam War era.

    (It’s online in three parts; I have a cover page with links to all three here.)

  36. Regarding the Geneva conventions, I take McCain’s (and others’) point that poor treatment by the US will only encourage poor treatment of our troops by other countries. I fear, though, that the horse has already left that barn – witness the beheadings of hostages & journalists, the public burning of Americans in the streets of Iraq some years ago, etc. I’m not suggesting we don’t comply with the conventions, but we should remember that as a non-state entity, Al Qaeda is not a signatory to the conventions, and probably does not feel compelled to abide by them. Not an excuse, just throwing a fact out there…

    As to the detainee legislation, it’s mildly amusing that an actual political/legal negotiation has become so foreign in this country that people don’t recognize it when it happens. Let’s take a dispassionate look at what’s happened here for a change, shall we? The President institutes a program. The courts declare it unconstitutional and require him to get congressional approval before continuing. The President proposes something to Congress that is very much like his program. Congress rejects it & proposes something much less severe. At the end of the day, they will agree to something in the middle, and a law will be passed. If they choose to, the ACLU can then sponsor a test case on that law as well.

    This is how the system is supposed to work, people. The fact that the media jumps all over a Republican disagreeing with another Republican and calls it “infighting” or “a rift” doesn’t make it a horrible thing.

    I’ll also note that the alternate proposal came from Republican senators. Where are the Democrats (again?!?) How I wish they’d propose an alternative as well (or at least sign on to McCain’s? Has that happened? If so, no one’s reporting it). If I had any sense from them that they had some ideas on how to run the country (other than “Please vote these guys out because they’re so evil), I’d feel much better about voting for one of them.

  37. Jon – be careful what you ask for. POWs can be held until the war is over. When exactly will the “war on terror” be over? Treating them as POWs means some poor shlump who was Bin Ladens’ driver gets life in prison.

    Brian Greenberg – You make a good point. Al Queda has been violating the Geneva Conventions (kidnapping and killing journalists, the 9/11 attack) since well before we invaded Iraq. Recipocity is out the door.

    I also agree that we shouldn’t just toss international law out the door unilaterally. That’s why this debate is important.

  38. I thought we were concerned about prisoner rights not because of reciprocity, but because we are (or at least were) a lawful nation.

    Basing our actions on those of Al-Qaeda is like the little kid who tells Mom that everyone else is doing the same thing. And “Slightly better than the worst people on earth” isn’t a fitting slogan for a country that wants to spread democracy throughout the world.

    I agree about not caring why these senators are doing this. I used to think that you had to do the right thing for the right reasons, but as I got older I realized that just doing the right thing is plenty extraordinary enough.

  39. Brian, most of reports I’ve heard talk about the Dems supporting the alternative as having the best chance at getting a workable law. But that’s one line in the whole “the a crack in the damn” story about the republican moderates no longer toeing the line. It tends to get burried.

    And then the President stands up and demands clarity for the CIA et al. Here’s clarity, Mr. President, it’s not what you want and those CIA liability insurance policies might have to pay-out.

  40. Brian

    Apart from the moral reasons, treating prisoner also undercuts the morale of the enemy. They know that if they surrender to US forces, they’ll get a good deal. For conscript troops serving under a dictator, that was a big incentive. (See this email from a guy who guarded Iraqi POWs in the 1st Gulf War.)

    As you say, that horse has arguably left the barn. Our new policies have led to POWs being tortured to death. Maybe in a generation or two we can recover the moral stature we’ve lots (and the very real power that went with it).

  41. You know, if the Senate had been doing their damned *job* for the last six years, that headline would not have been possible because there would have been plenty of disagreement, and it would have been nothing special to remark on.

    King George will have much to answer for.

  42. King George will have much to answer for.

    Only if he’s held acocuntable. I don’t think America has the guts anymore. We didn’t do any mroe than let Nixon quit. We let Ollie fucking North off with a pardon.

    Right Wing criminals who help steal billions like Bob Ney get 2 years in prison while fucking streetside pot dealers get harsher sentences. We haven’t got the guts to look ourselves in the mirror on issues of justice for politicians.

  43. “Which means come Tuesday, they’ll out themselves by saying “Arrr, matey!”

    (Yes, Talk Like A Pirate Day is upon us again, ye landlubbin’ bastards!)”

    Ooh, I almost forgot! (I missed Sneak A Zuchini Onto Your Neighbor’s Porch Day, and that’s really all the special holidays I can miss in a year.) (Just in case you think I’m too weird, the only other holiday I celebrate that no one else I know does too is Towel Day. Oh, and I go around wishing everyone a happy Guy Fawkes Day on the fifth of November, which is kinda odd for an Arizonan…)

    Not to, you know, derail the thread or anything. But all the arguments I’d’ve made have been.

  44. Steve Buchheit:
    Brian, most of reports I’ve heard talk about the Dems supporting the alternative as having the best chance at getting a workable law.

    I’m glad they’re supporting it, but I’d much prefer seeing them proposing their own alternative.

    They’re missing a huge opportunity – not only for the midterm elections, but the 2008 presidential election – to prove to the American people that they have some good ideas about how to lead. As it stands now, they seem to be sticking with the argument that we should all vote for Democrats because the Republicans are just evil, awful people. Whether you believe that or not, it hasn’t helped them win an election in ten years.

    Jon Marcus:
    As you say, that horse has arguably left the barn. Our new policies have led to POWs being tortured to death. Maybe in a generation or two we can recover the moral stature we’ve lots (and the very real power that went with it).

    Actually, that’s not what I said. I think the torture we’ve seen directed at American troops has more to do with the enemy we’re fighting (who do not feel bound by the Geneva Conventions or any other international rules/laws), as it does with our treatment of their troops. That’s not to say we shouldn’t abide by the GC’s, as this will surely not be the last time our troops are in harms way.

  45. McCain has disagreed with Bush before, especially on the issue of torture.

    Yet magically, once the worshipful cameras moved on from Saint McCain, he shut up even in the face of President Bush’s signing statement asserting that he would not comply with the McCain torture amendment. Why, it’s almost as if strutting about in his maverick outfit for the credulous media were the only important thing. Perhaps we should ask his new buddy Jerry Falwell.

    I’m glad they’re supporting it, but I’d much prefer seeing them proposing their own alternative.

    Excellent point, Mr. Greenberg. Something that didn’t put an official stamp of approval on the Executive detaining people forever without due process would be nice; though that part of the noble Republicans’ alternative doesn’t get as much play as “We’re re-re-re-banning torture, and this time we really mean it!”