Wednesday, September 27, 2006


This story is more than a few days old by now, but it is an important part of the history of Bush's presidency, because it marked a clear and extremely public revolt by key members of his own party.

All this despite the fact that Bush basically still got most of what he wanted when it came to trying 'War On Terror' detainees in military tribunals and allowing the torture-driven, "forced confessions" from these detainees to be used as evidence against them in such trials :

From the Seattle Post :
Sens. John McCain and Lindsey Graham cornered their partner, Sen. John Warner, on the Senate floor...

Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, had been trying for weeks to quietly work out the three Republicans' differences with the Bush administration's proposal to bring terrorism suspects to trial.

But McCain, of Arizona, and Graham, of South Carolina, who are on the committee with Warner, of Virginia, convinced him the time for negotiation was over.

The three senators, all military veterans, marched off to an impromptu news conference to lay out their deep objections to the Bush legislation. Warner then personally broke the news to Sen. Bill Frist of Tennessee, the majority leader, and the next day the Armed Services Committee voted 15-9 to approve a legislative rebuke to the president's plan to reinterpret the Geneva Conventions.

It was a stinging defeat for the White House, not least because the words of Warner, a former Navy secretary, carry particular weight. With a long history of ties to the military, Warner, 79, has a reputation as an accurate gauge of views that senior officers are reluctant to express in public.

Notably, Warner was joined by Colin Powell, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, in a rare public breach with the administration he served as secretary of state.

As Warner left his Senate office Friday, he carried a briefcase of material to prepare for a potential legislative showdown. At stake, he said, was more than the fate of "these 20-odd individuals," a reference to the high-level terrorism suspects awaiting possible trial at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba.

"It's how America's going to be perceived in the world, how we're going to continue the war against terror."

Democrats and Republicans alike had assumed that Warner, a smooth negotiator not given to public confrontation, would give in to the administration, especially considering the importance Republicans had placed on the legislation as midterm elections neared.

The thinking was that McCain, who was tortured as a Vietnam prisoner of war, would not budge, nor would Graham, a military lawyer and zealous guardian of military standards. But as Warner considered the consequences of the proposal, he decided to stick to his guns, saying he believed the nation's reputation was at stake.

Bush seems equally determined to win provisions he says are needed to interrogate and prosecute terrorism suspects. He and his allies are ratcheting up pressure on Senate Republicans who support alternate rules adopted last week by the Armed Services Committee.

One aide said Saturday the number of Senate Republicans behind the three senators was widening beyond the eight or 10 anticipated, with lawmakers — heavily influenced by Powell's stance — preparing to go public with their views.

In interviews, two senior Bush administration officials acknowledged that the White House had underestimated the depth of opposition. They also said they had focused mostly on gaining Graham's support.

A Republican senator separately described the clash between the White House and Warner's group as "a train wreck."

The administration officials and the Republican senator were granted anonymity because they would not otherwise openly discuss negotiations between the White House and Congress.

Warner's convictions about how military trials should proceed appear to stem largely from his experience, beginning with his Navy service in World War II.

"I'm a man that's been through a lot," Warner said, recounting his days as secretary of the Navy in the early 1970s when he was confronted with issues of military prisoners. "I've been through this before."

Graham has similarly drawn on his legal and military background in challenging the White House. "The Geneva Convention means more to me than the average person," he said.

Graham acknowledged that the political battle was bruising but said he could not tolerate a change in the American interpretation of the conventions if it meant short-term benefits at long-term costs.

"President Bush is very sincere in wanting the tools he needs to fight the war on terror," Graham said. "I don't want the tools they are given to become clubs to be used against our people."

In a letter sent Friday to Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, Graham also took issue with a provision of the administration's approach that would allow the use of secret evidence in trials of terrorism suspects.

"Where in American jurisprudence do you find support for the concept that a person accused can be tried and convicted on evidence which that person has no opportunity to see, confront or rebut?" Graham wrote.

The bonds among Warner, McCain and Graham were forged in difficult times. Warner and McCain first met when Warner was the Navy secretary and McCain was returning to his Navy career after his captivity. McCain and Graham became close during the 2000 primaries in South Carolina, when McCain came under attack from Bush Republicans. They teamed up last year in forcing the White House to accept a ban on torture.

After the Supreme Court struck down the administration's earlier plan for military tribunals in June, they joined with top military lawyers to form the chief bulwark against what they said were efforts to undermine military law and the 60-year-old protections of the Geneva Conventions.

"It's not a question of defiance or intransigence; it's the way we've worked," Warner said. "We've continued to indicate a willingness to look at situations — is there a bridge that we can build between certain provisions? And our core principles are very rooted in the three of us."

Graham added, "There are three branches of government, not one."

Warner sought to serve as a counterbalance to the occasionally combative McCain and Graham during a turbulent week that fractured the Republican majority on its signature issue, national security. It saw Powell enlisting with the three Republicans against Bush, and left Graham chewing out Gen. Michael Hayden, the CIA director, in a closed meeting.

Administration officials said they had focused on Warner as the key to overcoming Republican opposition in the Senate. When he raised a question with Hayden about the State Department's view on the matter, Warner received a call within hours from Rice.

Rice followed up with a letter to Warner, which administration officials distributed Thursday to counter the letter from Powell, which had objected to the administration's plan to redefine Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

But once it became clear that Warner was dug in, the administration began setting its sights on other senators, inviting them to the White House.