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September 21, 2006
Deal Reached On Terror Interrogations

The White House reached agreement on language that will allow the CIA and military intelligence to interrogate captured high-value terrorists using techniques proven to work while complying with the Supreme Court's Hamdan mandate to bring all such detentions in compliance with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. The agreement allows Republicans to push through the new legislation as a united group and to bridge differences between the Senate and House. It caps a four-day effort to meet three dissenting Republicans in a compromise all could support:

The White House and rebellious Senate Republicans announced agreement Thursday on rules for the interrogation and trial of suspects in the war on terror. President Bush urged Congress to put it into law before adjourning for the midterm elections.

“I’m pleased to say that this agreement preserves the single most potent tool we have in protecting America and foiling terrorist attacks,” the president said, shortly after administration officials and key lawmakers announced agreement following a week of high-profile intraparty disagreement.

Sen. John McCain of Arizona, one of three GOP lawmakers who told Bush he couldn’t have the legislation the way he initially asked for it, said, “The agreement that we’ve entered into gives the president the tools he needs to continue to fight the war on terror and bring these evil people to justice.”

“There’s no doubt that the integrity and letter and spirit of the Geneva Conventions have been preserved,” McCain said, referring to international agreements that cover the treatment of prisoners in wartime.

None of the press releases and media reports have many details on the agreement, but it seems clear that the White House got what it wanted. George Bush had insisted that he would not sign any legislation that left the parameters of legality so vague that it would place interrogators in jeopardy of a subjective interpretation that would make them unwitting war criminals. The administration had to give up text that proclaimed existing standards of cruelty in US law sufficient for determining legality, to which the trio objected as a re-interpretation of CA3. In its place, the three agreed to provide clear definitions of war crimes, and that the new definitions would not block the kind of interrogations that helped the US stop at least eight terror attacks on the US.

At first blush, without seeing all of the specifics, I'd say that the administration won this battle, although it may have done so more publicly than they wanted. I doubt John McCain would cave on the topic of torture -- his principles on this point have been all too clear for the past two years -- so the victory may have amounted to nothing more than convincing McCain that the language would still ban torture. Regardless, the pressure that Bush personally put on this negotiation by assuring the balking Senators that the CIA program would end without Congressional support had to have an expediting effect on the talks.

Where does that leave Democrats? McCain's endorsement leaves them twisting in the wind. They have built him up as the conscience of the GOP for the last two years, especially on the topic of torture, due to their perception of him as a gadfly to the White House. Having established his credibility on the subject, they will find themselves ill prepared to gainsay him on his own negotiated settlement for interrogations.

If the Democrats are smart, they will just let the legislation pass quickly through Congress. They have seen the Republicans rise from the dead in the polls approaching the midterms, and it doesn't take a mathematician to put two and two together on the effect the national security debate has had on their fortunes. Opposing a program that has saved America from eight separate terrorist plots with some belly-slapping and loud music will not convince voters that the Democrats will keep the nation safe during a time of war. They should keep the focus on Iraq, rather than give Bush any more opportunities to remind the nation that the same programs that kept terrorists from attacking us will disappear with a Democratic Congress.

Sphere It Digg! View blog reactions
Posted by Ed Morrissey at September 21, 2006 8:20 PM

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