07 January 2006

3 GOP senators blast Bush bid to bypass torture ban

Bravo to these strong and righteous senators for standing up for human rights and decency, and for demonstrating that torture is not a partisan issue.

From The Boston Globe via Common Dreams:
Three key Republican senators yesterday condemned President Bush's assertion that his powers as commander in chief give him the authority to bypass a new law restricting the use of torture when interrogating detainees.

John W. Warner Jr., a Virginia Republican who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee, and Senator John McCain, an Arizona Republican, issued a joint statement rejecting Bush's assertion that he can waive the restrictions on the use of cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment against detainees to protect national security.

"We believe the president understands Congress's intent in passing, by very large majorities, legislation governing the treatment of detainees," the senators said. "The Congress declined when asked by administration officials to include a presidential waiver of the restrictions included in our legislation. Our committee intends through strict oversight to monitor the administration's implementation of the new law."

Separately, the third primary sponsor of the detainee treatment law, Senator Lindsey O. Graham, Republican of South Carolina, told the Globe in a phone interview that he agreed with everything McCain and Warner said "and would go a little bit further."

"I do not believe that any political figure in the country has the ability to set aside any . . . law of armed conflict that we have adopted or treaties that we have ratified," Graham said. "If we go down that road, it will cause great problems for our troops in future conflicts because [nothing] is to prevent other nations' leaders from doing the same."

The White House did not return calls yesterday about the senators' statements. On Friday, in signing the ban on torture, Bush issued a "signing statement," saying he would interpret the restrictions in the context of his broader constitutional powers as commander in chief. A "signing statement" is an official document in which a president lays out his interpretation of a new law.

A senior administration official later confirmed that the president believes the Constitution gives him the power to authorize interrogation techniques that go beyond the law to protect national security. But in enacting the law, Congress intended to close every loophole and impose an absolute ban on all forms of torture, no matter the circumstances, Graham said.

David Golove, a New York University law professor who specializes in executive power issues, said the senators' statements "mean that the battle lines are drawn" for an escalating fight over the balance of power between the two branches of government.

"The president is pointing to his commander in chief power, claiming that it somehow gives him the power to dispense with the law when he's conducting war," Golove said. "The senators are saying: 'Wait a minute, we've gone over this. This is a law Congress has passed by very large margins, and you are compelled and bound to comply with it.'"
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