Defense Authorization

Floor Speech

By:  Lindsey Graham
Date: Sept. 20, 2010
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. GRAHAM. Mr. President, I rise to speak about the upcoming vote tomorrow at 2:15 on the Defense authorization bill. I don't know the state of play, but it looks as though we will bring to the floor a Defense authorization bill without any ability to amend the bill beyond a very limited set of amendments. If one is watching the political discourse at the moment, they would not realize we are at war in two different theaters and that Iran is pursuing a nuclear weapon, and that maybe a year from now they will have one. We are talking about domestic politics and spending. That is good. But what is equally important is national security.

The Defense authorization bill is coming to the Senate floor tomorrow, and we have a don't ask, don't tell policy change within the bill that basically says we are going to change the law that would get rid of don't ask, don't tell; a policy that has worked very well, that we would receive input from the military, and we are going to change the law before we ask our men and women in uniform about their opinion. That is a huge mistake. We were told last year there would be a study among all the services about the effect of don't ask, don't tell on recruiting and retention and how it would affect the Armed Forces.

Before we can get the study done, I think the Congress is going to repeal the law because our Democratic friends believe in the fall there will be more Republicans. So they are going to try to do it now. We should not repeal don't ask, don't tell until we get input from our men and women who are serving. That is one thing that is driving this bill.

The DREAM Act is a piece of legislation that would give legal status to young children who were brought into the country illegally, brought here as children as illegal immigrants. They have lived most of their lives here. It would allow them to go to school under State tuition. It would give them legal status. That is an issue that needs to be talked about in terms of comprehensive immigration reform, not the Defense authorization bill.

If someone were listening to the debate on the Defense authorization bill, they would believe the biggest national security threats we face are abortions in military hospitals, the DREAM Act, which has to do with citizenship for young illegal immigrants, and don't ask, don't tell. We are not talking about what happens if Iran gets a nuclear weapon, how we win in Afghanistan, or what we need to do to get Iraq right. We are on the 10 yard line, but we are not there yet.

I have an amendment I would like to offer to the body that would get 99
votes. It says stop reading terrorists their Miranda rights. This is not crime we are fighting. We are fighting a war. I don't believe in torture; I believe in living within our values. But there is a difference between a law enforcement activity and fighting a war.

When we capture a terrorist who just tried to blow up an airplane over Detroit, the last thing we need to do is read them their Miranda rights. We should take them off the airplane, turn them over to the military, the CIA, and let them be questioned about future attacks within our values--not torture but firmly and effectively asked about intelligence.

The moment we read somebody their Miranda rights, we go into the area of law enforcement. We are fighting a war, not a crime. I have a bill that would change our habeas review process where an enemy prisoner is allowed to go to Federal court under Supreme Court holdings, and when they go to court, the habeas review doesn't have any uniform standards. In one case they let the guy go because the government couldn't prove he was a member of al-Qaida on the day he was captured. But they could prove without a doubt that he had trained with al-Qaida, swore an oath to al-Qaida right after 9/11. The burden should be on the enemy combatant to prove they are not a member of al-Qaida once we have established they were at some point in time.

The whole habeas review system needs to be looked at. Our judges are crying out for some congressional involvement to give them uniform standards.

We have 48 people in prison at Guantanamo Bay held for years without trial. Under the law of war, we can hold an enemy prisoner indefinitely without trial because it is part of a war. Under domestic criminal law, we have to charge somebody with a crime or let them go. That is a dilemma we should not face. If someone is being held as an enemy combatant, there ought to be a legal process to make that determination with an annual review. I would like to create that legal process. I would like to create some rational legal system that recognizes we are at war, not fighting a crime. But the only thing I can talk about is don't ask, don't tell and the DREAM Act. This is ridiculous.

We have men and women in harm's way. This Nation is under siege. We have not adjusted our laws since 9/11 to be at war within our values. The extremes can't be the norm. The choice between waterboarding and the Army Field Manual in terms of interrogation should not be the two choices. The CIA today is out of the interrogation business. The Executive order issued by President Obama denies the CIA the ability to use enhanced interrogation techniques that this body passed under the Detainee Treatment Act, so the CIA is basically an organization without any ability to question someone. If we capture terrorists tomorrow, where will we put them? Guantanamo Bay hadn't been used in years. We are a nation without a jail. These are big issues that need to be addressed in a comprehensive fashion.

The Defense authorization bill is the natural venue. But under the process before the Senate, it is being shut down, and the Defense authorization bill is no longer a vehicle to deal with defense matters. It is now a political checklist before the November elections. The Hispanic community, check; they got a vote on the DREAM Act.

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Mr. GRAHAM. Sherlock Holmes said what is left on the table, when you rule everything out, is the answer. It makes no sense to me for us to bring the Defense authorization bill to the floor of the Senate at any time where the Senator from Arizona and I cannot offer an amendment about how we try a terrorist. Should Khalid Sheikh Mohammed be given a Federal court right? Should he be put in New York City or any other Federal court and tried as a normal criminal, or should he be tried in a military court as an enemy combatant?

These are big issues. Under the construct created--and the reason I will vote no when I would normally vote yes--I cannot offer amendments. We are going to be voting on the DREAM Act. The DREAM Act is a hot topic in the immigration world but not very hot among our troops.

I have been to Afghanistan and Iraq numerous times. I haven't had one soldier or airman or sailor or marine or Coast Guard member ask me about the DREAM Act. They want to know are they going to get paid more and do they have the tools to win the war. This is politics at its worst, may I say.

As a Republican, I stand here knowing our party has probably abused power in the past but not like this. This, to me, is going to a new level. We are in two wars. Iran is on the verge of making a breakthrough on the nuclear weapons front. We have a Defense bill where we can't amend it to talk about the war on terror or about legal changes--stop reading terrorists their Miranda rights. We will be voting on the DREAM Act which is checking a block. We will be voting on don't ask, don't tell in a way in which I think is offensive to the men and women who serve.

The Senator was promised last year, as the ranking member, when he asked the question, that our men and women would give us input before the administration would move to change don't ask, don't tell. That has all been turned upside down. The law is now that it will be repealed and we ask later.

This idea about secret holds in the Senate, that is probably an internal matter that needs to be resolved but not on Defense authorization. The answer is, this is politics.

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Mr. GRAHAM. The Senator makes a good point. He has been ranking member. Obviously, his military record is well known. He was promised--I took it as a promise--last year that we would not change don't ask, don't tell until we got input from those who serve our country in uniform. That process is ongoing. But now the law we are expected to vote on tomorrow changes don't ask, don't tell. It completely reverses that policy but allows us to get input later. That is quite offensive. We know there isn't going to be a snowball's chance in hell they are actually going to listen to what the men and women say because the whole goal is to get that vote for a specific constituency.

Special interest groups are dominating this bill unlike any time before. We have changed the law about abortions in military hospitals, we have the DREAM Act which has zero to do with national defense, and now we have a major change in don't ask, don't tell in a way that is contrary.

I spoke to the incoming Commandant of the Marine Corps who will be up for a vote soon. He said he was very concerned about making this change now. We are in two wars. There is a lot going on in the world. This is a major social change. He thinks it would be smart to listen to the marines and other servicemembers before we make the change. If the bill becomes law, we will not have done that. That is a huge mistake.

I thank the Senator from Arizona for his leadership to make sure the men and women in uniform are heard from before Congress acts.

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Mr. GRAHAM. I say to the Senator, his point is well taken. If the DREAM Act is not considered part of comprehensive immigration reform, it will be a huge mistake. The reason we have 12 million people here illegally in our country is because you can get to America pretty easily illegally, obviously. You can walk across the street in some places. So you have to control the border.

Visa overstays are 40 percent of the illegal immigration problem. If you do not do that, then you are never going to stop the third wave of illegal immigration. You have to deal with why they come: to get jobs. We need better employer verification. We need a temporary worker program so employers can hire people in a win-win situation, where people from other countries can come here and work, make some money, and go back home. It helps us; it helps them. That is what you need to do with immigration, comprehensive reform.

The DREAM Act is about November politics. It is an emotional topic that if you did it in isolation would be undercutting comprehensive reform. Certainly it has nothing to do with defense authorization. It is trying to check a block.

For the people who came to my office last week who were literally praying that I would vote for the DREAM Act in the Defense authorization bill, you are certainly being used and abused, in my view. This is an emotional topic, and at the end of the day, all I can tell you is, this is not a way to change immigration. This is not comprehensive immigration reform. This is not good defense policy. This is just sheer, raw politics at a time when we could do better and should do better.

I yield the floor.

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