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Departments of Commerce and Justice, and Science, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act, 2008

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I rise in response to the shocking news reported on the front page of the New York Times that the Department of Justice gave legal advice authorizing the use of extreme interrogation techniques not only in 2002 and 2003 but also at least two more times in 2005. This revelation shows that the Justice Department has fallen even lower than we had realized and that it is up to Congress to take a firm stand against torture because this Executive cannot be trusted to do so.

We have been here before. Before this morning, we already knew about an earlier opinion by the Office of Legal Counsel that authorized the use of torture. When this ``torture memo'' came to light, the Bybee memorandum, it inspired worldwide outrage and condemnation. America lost its moral high ground in the fight against terrorism, possibly for years to come. This memo and others like it violated the values we hold dear, undermined our intelligence gathering, and encouraged our enemies to respond in kind. But the opinion was not only morally wrong, it was also legally wrong. After the public outrage over the opinions broke, the Office of Legal Counsel took the extraordinary step of withdrawing it, and as far as we know, this is the first time an OLC opinion had ever been overturned within a single administration.

Today's New York Times story tells us that this disgraceful episode did not end when the torture memorandum was withdrawn. At the same time the Justice Department was publicly claiming it had put things right, the Office of Legal Counsel was secretly issuing two new opinions. The first opinion authorized harsh interrogation techniques together, in combination, to create a more extreme overall effect. In other words, interrogators could withhold food at the same time they subjected detainees to freezing temperatures. The second opinion declared none of the CIA's interrogation methods violated the ban on cruel, inhuman, and degrading treatment that Congress was getting ready to pass. This was at a time when the CIA was using waterboarding and other foreign techniques copied from the Soviets and other brutal regimes.

So how did the Justice Department go from secretly authorizing brutal interrogation techniques in 2002 and 2003 to withdrawing some of that authorization in 2004 to once again secretly reauthorizing such techniques in 2005? The answer, we now know, is that the White House overruled all those pesky officials who told them what they didn't want to hear--who told them that torture is wrong and illegal.

James Comey told his colleagues at the Justice Department that they would all be ashamed when the world eventually learned of these opinions. He was sidelined by the White House. Jack Goldsmith met the same fate. These were conservative Republicans and loyal patriots who were simply trying to uphold the law.

It is clear why President Bush wanted Alberto Gonzales to run the Justice Department--he wanted to install his personal lawyer, not a guardian of the rule of law. Mr. Gonzales approved these two memos and everything else the President needed for legal cover.

It would be bad enough if this administration had disgraced itself and this country by engaging in cruel and degrading treatment of detainees. It is worse still that it enlisted the Justice Department in an attempt to justify and cover up its activities.

Today's revelations give new urgency to the need for congressional action. I am the sponsor of a bill that responds to this need--the Torture Prevention and Effective Interrogation Act. The bill makes one basic reform: to apply the standards of the Army Field Manual to all U.S. Government interrogations, not just the Department of Defense interrogations.

When Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, we recognized that the Army Field Manual represents our best effort to develop an effective interrogation policy. The Senate voted 90 to 9 to apply its standards to all Department of Defense personnel. By enacting the Detainee Treatment Act, Congress tried to ensure that our Government honors its commitment to the basic rights enshrined in the Geneva Conventions, which protect both the values we cherish as a free society and the lives of our service men and women overseas.

We now know, however, that the 2005 Act falls short of our goals. We left open a loophole that undermines the basic safeguards against torture and cruel and degrading treatment. We applied the reform to the Department of Defense, but not to the CIA. And as today's New York Times story shows, it is the CIA that we need to be most worried about.

Last year, in the Military Commissions Act, Congress left it to the President to define by Executive Order the interrogation practices that would bind all government interrogators, including the CIA.

The President's Executive order took maximum advantage of this loophole. It is vague and fails to prohibit many of the most flagrant interrogation practices. Combined with these new OLC opinions that have just come to light, this Executive order makes clear that the President believes these interrogation practices to be perfectly acceptable.

The Torture Prevention and Effective Interrogation Act closes the loophole left open by the Detainee Treatment Act. It follows the warning of General Petraeus that brutal interrogation methods are both illegal and immoral, and that ``history shows that they also are frequently neither useful nor necessary.''

This bill is an opportunity to restate our commitment to the security and ideals of our country. It is an opportunity to repair some of the damage done to our international reputation by the Abu Ghraib scandal and the abuses at Guantanamo. It is an opportunity to restore our nation's role as a beacon for human rights, fair treatment, and the rule of law. And it is an opportunity to protect our brave servicemen and women from similar tactics.

It is a simple measure that is long overdue.

Once again, this morning, Americans and people all over the world are revolted by what they have learned about this administration's refusal to reject cruel and degrading treatment. It will be up to the next Attorney General to restore the Justice Department to integrity. It is up to Congress to restore the rest of the government to the principles of law and justice that make this country great.

Mr. President, I will make a brief comment on an item that I think needs addressing.


Yesterday the President vetoed the CHIP program. I mentioned at that time that it was the most intolerable, inexplicable, and incomprehensible veto I have seen in the Senate. I think today the American people are beginning to understand why.

This is President Bush's quote, when he was Governor of Texas. This is from President Bush's Web site when he was Governor.

Governor Bush and the Texas legislature worked together to implement the CHIP program for more than 423,000 children. .....

Taking credit for the CHIP program in Texas when he was Governor. This is what he went on to say in 2004.

America's children must also have a healthy start in life. In a new term we will lead an aggressive effort to enroll millions of poor children who are eligible but not signed up for the Government's health insurance program. We will not allow a lack of attention or information to stand between these children and the health care they need.

We read that the President only yesterday had vetoed this program because, as he pointed out, he believed it was a government health insurance program, and his allies have called it socialized medicine. I was here in the Senate when we passed Medicare, and that was called socialized medicine. Those who called it socialized medicine were successful the first time, and then 9 months later we were successful in passing that program. It was in 1964, and it was passed in 1965. The intervening event was a Presidential election.

They said Medicaid was socialized medicine. They said the prescription drug program was a socialized program, and it was passed. They said the veterans health programs are socialized medicine programs.

We have found the President stated that Social Security, he believes, ought to be privatized--and that has been resisted by Democrats and Republicans--and that Medicare ought to be privatized. Let's make no mistake about it across this country: The President has now selected the CHIP program for the beginning of the privatization of these health programs and Americans ought to be very much aware--children today, seniors tomorrow, veterans the next day. Let's understand that.

Americans want practical solutions to these issues. The practical solution was the CHIP program. Even the CBO says if you are interested in ensuring uninsured children, the CHIP program is the way to go. The administration's own agency has stated that. Americans want the practical, not the ideological, which the President resorted to yesterday.

Finally, Americans want investment in America and American priorities. The No. 1 priority for Americans is American children, rather than the sands in Iraq--pouring billions and billions of dollars into the sands of Iraq. Americans want to invest in the children. That is what this debate is about. That is what this discussion is about, Republicans and Democrats coming together for practical resolution and decision on this issue of the CHIP program.

When we recess briefly now and return to our States, hopefully the American people are going to speak to their representatives and say: On this issue, do what is right for the children. Put children first. Put American children first and vote to override the veto.

I yield the floor.


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