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National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2006

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, the war against terrorism is as much as a contest of values and ideals as it is a military conflict. In this struggle, America should lead as it always has, setting an example by treating others as we would want to be treated ourselves, even in times of war.

This golden rule has been tarnished and abandoned by the Bush administration. As a result, for much of the world, the American face in the war on terror is represented by images of torture and abuse. The ``anything goes'' attitude at the highest levels of the Bush White House has made the war on terror much harder to win. And it has placed our own soldiers at risk throughout the globe, should they be captured.

How can we demand that the rest of the world abide by standards of common decency when we abuse prisoners ourselves?

So I come to the floor today in strong support of the McCain amendment to protect American honor by ensuring clear rules for the interrogation of prisoners. This common sense proposal ensures that we have one standard of interrogation for our Government, and it makes sure the rules are clear so that our interrogators and case officers know what the limits are.

Before September 11, 2001, everyone knew what the limits were. They were clearly laid out in the Army Field Manual, our laws, and our treaty obligations. Yet this administration began systematically taking those rules apart.

COL. Larry Wilkerson, the chief of staff to Secretary Powell, said on NPR yesterday, ``The Secretary of Defense, under cover of the Vice President's office began to create an environment ..... of allowing the President in his capacity as Commander-in-Chief to deviate from the Geneva Conventions.''

William Taft, the State Department legal advisor in President Bush's first term, knew the consequences of that fundamental shift. In an address at American University, he said that the decision to violate international standards ``unhinged those responsible for the treatment of the detainees ..... from the legal guidelines for interrogation ..... embodied in the Army Field Manual for decades. Set adrift in uncharted waters and under pressure from their leaders to develop information on the plans and practices of al Qaeda, it was predictable that those managing the interrogation would eventually go too far.''

The Judge Advocate Generals from the Air Force, Navy, Army and Marines--in other words, the chief lawyers for every one of the uniformed services--warned that the adoption of interrogation policies contrary to the Geneva Conventions would result in grave harms. These are all professional military lawyers who have dedicated their lives and distinguished careers to serving the men and women in uniform and protecting their Nation. In an extraordinary set of memos they strongly opposed the legal theories foisted on them by the administration's lawyers. The JAGS warned that the policies would harm not only our efforts to stop terrorism, but would also put U.S. forces at risk who were themselves detained in this and future conflicts. One legal scholar called the administration's case some of the worst legal reasoning he had ever seen.

As Air Force Major General Jack Rives said: ``We need to consider the overall impact of approving extreme interrogation techniques as giving official approval and legal sanction to the application of interrogation techniques that U.S. forces have consistently been trained are unlawful.''

Yet; despite the condemnation of these new interrogation policies by experienced diplomatic and military personnel alike, the administration persists in pursuing these disturbing practices. Just last week, Vice President CHENEY himself suggested that the CIA should be exempt from the prohibitions against cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment. As of this week, it is clear why. The CIA apparently is holding more than a hundred detainees in secret prisons around the world to interrogate them with the techniques roundly rejected by the military lawyers.

This is unacceptable. In America, no one is above the law. There is no reason the CIA--or any other agency of our government--should be immune from American norms and standards of conduct.

This amendment will make our message clear. As Americans, not only do we fight for our ideals, but we live by them. We can no longer tolerate ambiguity when it comes to the very standards we are trying to enforce around the world.

In the first gulf war, our compliance with the Geneva Conventions--the international gold standard for treatment of captives--was called ``the best of any nation in any conflict in the history of the Conventions'' by the International Red Cross, the organization charged with overseeing compliance with the conventions.

There are good reasons that we should abide by the Geneva Conventions. They protect our own troops. The Conventions require that all captured combatants or prisoners of war must be visited by the Red Cross to help assure the world that their treatment is humane. The International Red Cross visited U.S. servicemen held prisoner in Kosovo in the 1990s. They visited our troops held in the first gulf war.

As Milt Bearden, a former CIA official, wrote in this morning's New York Times, ``the treatment of prisoners generally reaches symmetry in any war.'' In other words, if we abuse prisoners in a war, others will abuse our soldiers if they are taken prisoner.

As Mr. Bearden pointed out, our actions make a difference, even in extreme situations. He wrote, ``The policy of three presidents--Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan, and George H.W. Bush--was that both the Afghan mujahedeen insurgents we supported and their Soviet adversaries would be treated within the precepts of the Geneva Conventions when taken prisoner. I can state without reservation that the United States used its influence consistently to promote that policy, with overwhelmingly positive results.''

Sadly, our treatment of detainees at Abu Ghraib, in Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and other sites, makes it far more difficult for us to guarantee the protections of the Geneva Conventions for our military if they are captured, and degrades the international consensus against such abuse.

America must lead by example. After the abuse of the detainees at Abu Ghraib, President Bush said, ``Their treatment does not reflect the nature of the American people. That is not the way we do things in America.''

Let's make the President's bold words into a reality and adopt the McCain amendment.

Mr. President, I ask unanimous consent that full text of Mr. Bearden's op-ed be printed in the RECORD.

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