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Public Statements

National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2007 - Part 2

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC


NATIONAL DEFENSE AUTHORIZATION ACT FOR FISCAL YEAR 2007 -- (Senate - June 21, 2006)

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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I intend to support the Levin-Reed amendment, and I also intend to support the Kerry amendment.

Both amendments make clear that Democrats are united in our belief that it is time to shift to the Iraqis the responsibility for their own future and to begin to withdraw our troops from Iraq. It is wrong for the Republican-controlled Congress to be a rubberstamp for the President's failed policy. We cannot ignore our responsibility to our men and women in uniform.

America was wrong to go to war in Iraq in the way we did, when we did, and for the false reasons we were given. There was no immediate threat. There was no persuasive link to al-Qaida. Saddam Hussein was not close to acquiring a nuclear weapon.

But as my brother Robert Kennedy said in 1968:

Past error is no excuse for its own perpetuation.

Mindless determination and foolish consistency don't make a better outcome likely. With each passing day, the American people are growing more and more impatient with the war in Iraq.

They want a policy worthy of the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform, not sloganeering and accusations of ``cut and run.'' The American people don't want our troops deployed in Iraq indefinitely, defending the same flawed strategy. Staying the course is not an acceptable strategy when the course is a failed course.

Our military forces have now been deployed in Iraq for 39 months, more than 3 years. That's longer than the 37 months of combat in the Korean war. By the end of this year, it will be longer than it took to fight and win World War II.

The American people want a realistic strategy for our troops to be redeployed out of Iraq, and this amendment provides it. It sends clear message: now that a democratic government has been elected by the Iraqi people, it is time for American troops to begin to come home.

We need to view disengagement as part of the solution in Iraq. Our overwhelming military presence and our open-ended military commitment have only fueled the insurgency, made America a crutch for the Iraqi Government, made our country more hated in the world, and made the war on terrorism harder to win.

The best hope for the success of the new Iraqi Government to succeed is for us to begin disengaging from Iraq, and they from us. The Iraqi Government must begin to make its own decisions, make necessary compromises to avoid full-scale civil war, and take responsibility for its own future.

As Iraq's National Security Adviser wrote in the Washington Post yesterday: ``Iraq has to grow out of the shadow of the United States and the coalition, take responsibility for its own decisions, learn from its own mistakes, and find Iraqi solutions to Iraqi problems.''

Iraq has had elections, a permanent government has been established, more than 200,000 members of Iraqi security forces have been trained, and it is time to begin bringing Americans home. The Levin amendment and the Kerry amendment can help us achieve that goal and prevent our troops from being caught in an endless quagmire.

The cost of this war in blood and treasure has been far too great. More than $320 billion has already been spent, with no end in sight. A recent estimate by Nobel Prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz suggests the total cost will exceed $1 trillion.

Our military is stretched to the breaking point. Many soldiers have been deployed more than three times to Iraq.

More than 2,500 American lives have been lost, including more than 50 sons of Massachusetts. More than 18,000 of our troops have been wounded. Clearly, despite the death of Zarqawi, al-Qaida terrorists and insurgents remain determined to kill American soldiers.

Despite what Vice President CHENEY says about the insurgency being in its last throes, the insurgency rages on. Last month, 68 American soldiers were killed in Iraq. Insurgents attacked American soldiers 90 times a day.

We always knew that deposing Saddam Hussein would be easy, but the administration should have foreseen that winning the peace would be difficult. Unfortunately, for our men and women in uniform, the arrogance of the administration blinded it to the cold, hard realities that our troops would face every day in Iraq.

Alarm bells had been ringing, but the Bush administration ignored them.

As General Hoar, former head of the Central Command, warned before the war, in September 2002, winning the peace would be bloody. He said: ``In urban warfare ..... It looks like the last 15 minutes of Saving Private Ryan.''

General John M. Shalikashvili, former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, warned, before the war, in September of 2002: ``I think if it gets to urban warfare, and the likelihood is certainly great that it could ..... it could get very messy. The collateral damage could be very great, and our own casualties could increase significantly.''

In fact, in their 1997 book, A World Transformed the first President Bush and his National Security Adviser Brent Scowcroft explained why they didn't go on to Baghdad in the first gulf war. They wrote that it: ``would have incurred incalculable human and political costs ..... We would have been forced to occupy Baghdad and, in effect, rule Iraq. The coalition would instantly have collapsed, the Arabs deserting it in anger and other allies pulling out as well. Under those circumstances, there was no viable exit strategy we could see....... Had we gone the invasion route, the United States could conceivably still be an occupying power in a bitterly hostile land.''

Those words eerily describe what happened when the current President Bush ignored that wise advice and invaded Iraq.

We must not forget that ultimately this is a debate about real people who are risking their lives every day. With this amendment and the Kerry amendment, we provide a realistic way out of the quagmire in Iraq, and I urge my colleagues to support both.

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Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, America has long been a beacon of human rights and democracy in the world. But Guantanamo demonstrates the administration's disrespect for the rule of law.

The administration is trying to have it both ways. They claim the detainees at Guantanamo are prisoners of war and thus should be held until the end of hostilities. At the same time they refuse to treat them as prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.

In the first gulf war, the International Committee of the Red Cross said that our Nation's compliance with the Geneva Conventions was the best of any country in any conflict in the history of the conventions. Sadly, this administration has presided over the steepest and deepest fall from grace in our Nation's history.

The administration did not give the detainees the field hearings required under article 5 of the conventions, when the information relating to their capture was most readily available. Over 2 years later, the administration created combatant status review tribunals to substitute for the field hearings they should have held.

It is no surprise that it is often very difficult to find the necessary evidence. Yet the administration doesn't even try. The Boston Globe recently reported that 34 detainees convinced officials that overseas witnesses would provide relevant testimony. But in every case--every case--the administration said the witnesses could not be found. Yet in three days, Boston Globe reporters found three out of four witnesses--one of whom is teaching right here at the Pentagon's own National Defense University.

The shocking ease with which the Boston Globe located these witnesses suggests that the Government didn't make an effort to find them and raises serious questions about the administration's good faith in dealing with the detainees at Guantanamo. We have an even greater obligation to make sure we have a strong case now, since we have already kept these people for so long.

The administration not only ignored the law when it came to ensuring that these people were properly classified, but it also failed to give them the proper treatment.

The Geneva Conventions clearly state the standard for humane treatment of prisoners of war:

No physical or mental torture, nor any other form of coercion, may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatever. Prisoners of war who refuse to answer may not be threatened, insulted, or exposed to unpleasant or disadvantageous treatment of any kind.

This administration threw out the golden rule that had served us so well for so long. Instead, they adopted new rules that allowed cruel tactics such as waterboarding, use of military dogs, and stress positions. The administration consistently overruled the objections of experienced military personnel and those who represent American interests abroad, including Alberto Mora, the former general counsel of the Navy.

As Secretary of State Colin Powell warned the White House, ``It will reverse over a century of U.S. policy and practice in supporting the Geneva Conventions and undermine the protections of the law of war for our troops.'' Senior Defense officials were warned that changing the rules could lead to so-called ``force drift,'' in which, without clearer guidance, the level of force applied to an uncooperative detainee might well result in torture.

But these wise words fell on deaf ears. Officials at the highest levels of the administration viewed the rule of law as inconvenient and quaint. As Lawrence Wilkerson, former chief of staff to Secretary Powell, said, ``I don't think, in our history, we've ever had a presidential involvement, a secretarial involvement, a vice-presidential involvement, an attorney general involvement in telling our troops essentially carte blanche is the way you should feel.''

There is little doubt that some of those detainees are cold-blooded killers intent on harming Americans. They should be charged for their crimes and locked away. But far too many were swept up in raids by the Afghans and turned over to the Americans for reward money. Some were seized from the streets of Africa, Thailand, or Europe. As Jay Hood, the former commander of Guantanamo, said, ``Sometimes we just didn't get the right folks.''

The terrorists don't obey the Geneva Conventions. But we can't win the war on terror by stooping to their level. We do not win by repudiating the very ideals our soldiers are fighting for. We win by setting an example--by doing unto others as we would have them do unto us.

My colleagues on the other side of the aisle have argued that we need to hold these people until the end of the war on terror.

We have created legal and literal black holes where detainees are being held without hope of receiving due process or fair and humane treatment, and that is nothing short of a travesty. We criticize such tactics in repressive regimes for doing exactly that. It is the height of hypocrisy. It violates the basic principles on which our Nation was founded. Indefinite detention is not the American way. We need to restore our standing in the eyes of the world as a beacon of human rights, and the best way to start is by closing Guantanamo.

I understand the Senator from New Mexico was unable to get sufficient time to debate his amendment and will not insist on a vote. I hope that he will continue to fight for its adoption, and I urge my colleagues to support the Bingaman amendment when it is offered again.

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