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Effective Tools to Fight Terrorism

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

EFFECTIVE TOOLS TO FIGHT TERRORISM -- (Senate - September 15, 2006)

Mr. McCONNELL. Mr. President, I want to make a few observations about the war on terror, which certainly is an issue that has been front and center in the Senate and over in the House during the last few weeks.

There are really two issues. The first is, what are the tools the President needs to continue to effectively defend America?

We know that since 9/11 there have been no successful attacks on our country. We know before 9/11 they were at war with us. They tried to blow up the World Trade Center. They blew up our Embassies in East Africa. They blew up the USS Cole and killed 17 sailors. They were at war with us, but we were not yet at war with them.

Since we have been at war with them, we have not had a successful attack at home. Obviously, we are doing something very skillfully and very correctly. A part of that is the effective interrogation of terrorists and the effective surveillance of terrorists. Both effective interrogation and effective surveillance of terrorists prevent terror attacks and save lives. That has happened over the last 5 years.

Why does the President need these specific tools? Why does he need the bill he proposed? Intelligence leaders have said, as recently as yesterday, that we will have to shut down a demonstrably effective program without these tools. We will lose the intelligence and the security the intelligence provides.

So what is next for us in debating these important issues to help protect Americans at home? Only one side of the argument has been prevalent in the last day or so. We will have an opportunity to fully define the two issues to which I referred. A floor debate will highlight important bright-line issues.

For example, do we provide sensitive classified information to terrorists? There has actually been the suggestion that somehow a fundamental sense of fairness would require that we hand classified information over to terrorist defendants. That will be one of the big issues confronting us in the Senate.

Do we shut down an intelligence program that we know--it's not in dispute--that we know has saved lives and protected Americans? Do we want our troops exposed to the vagaries and whims of international courts?

What about this idea that we should not define Common article 3 in the United States? Well, Common article 3 is going to be defined. We know that. The only issue is, who will define it? European courts are now defining it. Maybe the U.S. Congress and the U.S. courts ought to be the final word on defining Common article 3. So, as I said, the question is really not whether Common article 3 is going to be defined--it is going to be--but, rather, who will be defining that article.

Common article 3 was written back in 1949, almost 60 years ago. Some of its terms--like prohibiting ``outrages upon personal dignity''--are inherently vague. As a result, foreign courts have been filling the void and doing that interpretation.

To give you an example, the European Court of Human Rights has declared as follows: merely having to wait on death row is ``inhuman or degrading treatment of punishment.'' That is a European court defining waiting on death row as being unacceptable. A European court has further said being in a cell with limited natural light is ``degrading,'' and that having little activities to occupy a prisoner is ``degrading.''

Now, the U.S. Congress should not sit on its hands and let some foreign judge--some foreign judge--define the meaning of Common article 3 in a way that most Americans would object to and which would put our troops at risk. That is why I support the President's position on using the Detainee Treatment Act--Senator McCain's act that we just adopted last year by a vote of 90 to 9 in the Senate--as the standard, use the McCain Detainee Treatment Act as the standard for defining Common article 3.

The DTA prohibits ``cruel, inhuman, or degrading'' treatment as defined by established standards of U.S. law. That is Senator McCain's bill, which we adopted last year, defining what is appropriate treatment of detainees.

So these will be the issues we will have to argue and discuss in the full Senate with all 100 Members participating. We have not heard from a whole lot of our colleagues on the other side of the aisle yet, and I know they are going to want to participate in this debate and share their views about whether these standards should be determined by the U.S. Congress or by European courts.

What we do know for sure, without question--no ambiguity--is that the current program works and has saved us from terrorist attacks and prevented us from being attacked again at home for over 5 years. The President needs tools to conduct these programs effectively to protect Americans at home. His proposal for terrorist detainees is one of those important tools. We do not all agree at this point about how to go about this, and that is why the Senate is a great deliberative body, and we will have that discussion on the Senate floor. But at some point we will come together and, hopefully, do it in a way where the interrogation of detainees can continue.

We know the Director of the CIA said yesterday that under the armed services bill, that program will have to be shut down. We know it has worked. We know it has saved lives. We need to solve this problem for the American people so they can continue to be protected at home, able to go about their daily lives in a manner they have become accustomed to over the years in this great, free society.

Mr. President, I yield the floor.

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