(Ninth in a series arguing against the Graham Amendment/for the Bingaman Amendment regarding habeas corpus at Guantanamo Bay. If you agree, please call your senators, and ask them to vote for Jeff Bingaman's S. AMDT 2517 to bill S. 1042. Senator Graham's full floor speech is here.)
"Congress now is looking over the shoulder of what is going on there....
the Congress is going to watch what happens. The Congress is going to be involved, and we are going to take a stand. We are going to help straighten out this legal mess we are in....
I know what we need to fix in terms of the way we have treated prisoners. We are doing it. We are getting it right. We are making up for our past sins....
To the human rights activists out there, God bless you. You have helped us in many ways. We are going to make the statements you want us to make about treating people humanely. We are going to have standardized interrogation techniques. Congress is going to provide oversight and we are going to let the courts provide oversight."--Senator Lindsey Graham
Senator Graham may honestly believe this. It isn't true.
Overlooked in the debates about Senator McCain's amendment to the defense appropriations bill prohibiting cruel, inhuman and degrading treatment, and Senator Graham's amendment stripping habeas from Guantanamo, was another amendment to the defense bill offered by Carl Levin of Michigan. Senate Amendment 2430 would have created an independent ten-member comission to investigate all aspects of the United States' treatment of detainees on the war on terror, modeled on the 9/11 Commission. An equal number of members would be appointed by Republican and Democratic elected officials. This commission would have the authority to supboena witnesses and documents, and federal agencies would be ordered to cooperate with it.
The amendment failed on a nearly party line vote. Zero Republican Senators voted in favor. One Democratic Senator, Ben Nelson of Nebraka, voted against. Two Senators, Jon Corzine, and John McCain, did not vote; they don't seem to have been in Washington that day. John Warner of Virginia, by all accounts one of the "good guys" in the Republican caucus on the torture issue, remarked during the debate that, "I will only say, as recently as in the past few days, our President has reassured our Nation that we do not tolerate or permit torture. I would have to believe that is a consistency of the policy of the administration." Warner later stated, "Our Government collectively is moving in the right direction to correct the problems of the past, clearly, such that the whole world knows how our Nation stands against this type of abuse that occurred in the past."
This is so backwards I'm not sure I even need to refute it. (Just in case: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. 8, 9, 10. That should do it.) But it is also completely typical of the response to the torture scandals by Republicans in Congress. Some more examples:
On June 17, 2004 the Judiciary committee voted 10-9 to reject a proposal to supboena many crucial Justice Department memos on the legality of torture. The vote fell strictly along party lines. Chairman Orrin Hatch explained that the subpoenas were "a dumb-ass thing to do" and a "fishing expedition...to make a political point," and anyway the White House would probably submit the documents to the Senate soon if the Democrats would simply ask nicely.
On July 15, 2004, the House International Relations committee voted down along party lines a resolution requiring the Secretary of State to provide documents about the treatment of detainees in Iraq and Afghanistan. On July 21, 2004 the House Judiciary Committee defeated a resolution requiring the Attorney General to produce documents.
Regular readers of this site will remember the House Republican leadership's attempt to legalize rendition in September 2004. It was not clear whether this was done out of conviction, as a campaign strategy, or both.
Leahy tried another round of requests for the OLC documents in January 2005, in connection with Alberto Gonzales' nomination for Attorney General. The administration refused to produce the documents, and the Judiciary Committee did not subpoena them. Gonzales was also not forthcoming on the stand or in written response to Democratic Senators' questions, though his refusals to answer questions were instructive in their own way. The Judiciary committee vote on Gonzales nomination fell along party lines; in the Senate as a whole, zero Republicans voted not to confirm, while a handful of Democrats voted to confirm.
On April 22, 2005, Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, the vice-chair of the Senate Intelligence Committeee complained on the Senate floor that Intel Committee Chair Pat Roberts was refusing to investigate reports of abusive interrogations and renditions to torture by the CIA. Rockefeller stated that "the Senate intelligence committee . . . is sitting on the sidelines and effectively abdicating its oversight responsibility to media investigative reporters." Roberts replied that an investigation was "unnecessary", "impractical," "damaging to the ongoing operations" of the agency, and would hurt morale. He characterized his critics of having "almost a pathological obsession with calling into question the actions" of U.S. intelligence. Rockefeller offered a resolution that would require the intelligence committee to conduct an investigation; as far as I can tell it never came to a vote.
The intelligence committee is traditionally secretive and nonpartisan; several of the articles about this incident noted that it was extremely, extremely unusual if not unprecedented for the vice-chair to make accusations like that towards the chair. Rockefeller is not known as a hot-tempered flame thrower, to put it mildly.
And now the Levin Amendment. Levin has also been pursuing attempts to get these documents revealed to Congress by, the way. He's gotten exactly nowhere.
For nearly a year, Democratic senators critical of alleged abuses have been demanding to see these memos. “We need to know what was authorized,” Carl Levin, a Democrat from Michigan, told me. “Was it waterboarding? The use of dogs? Stripping detainees? . . . The refusal to give us these documents is totally inexcusable.” Levin is a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, which is supposed to have an oversight role in relation to the C.I.A. “The Administration is getting away with just saying no,” he went on. “There’s no claim of executive privilege. There’s no claim of national security—we’ve offered to keep it classified. It’s just bullshit. They just don’t want us to know what they’re doing, or have done.”
I could give more examples--for instance, I distinctly remember Bill Frist introducing a bill to illegalize Dick Durbin's famous Guantanamo speech but can't seem to find a cite for that--but I think the point is made.
If anyone can find a single instance of a single Republican in Congress voting for a single subpoena or independent investigation, or against a single nominee, related to the torture scandals, I would love to hear about it. I have found no examples. I can't say they don't exist; I haven't gone over the Congressional Record carefully enough. But I have not found a single one.*
*I am aware that this got approved; I don't think it counts since it's: a) after Cheney apparently revealed this to the entire GOP caucus; b) more importantly, not ever going to be released to the public.