McCain Denounces Detainee Ruling

Sen. John McCain sharply criticized the Supreme Court for ruling that detainees can have access to U.S. courts.
Sen. John McCain sharply criticized the Supreme Court for ruling that detainees can have access to U.S. courts. (By L.m. Otero -- Associated Press)
By Juliet Eilperin and Michael D. Shear
Washington Post Staff Writers
Saturday, June 14, 2008

PEMBERTON, N.J., June 13 -- Republican Sen. John McCain (Ariz.) on Friday forcefully sided with President Bush in condemning the U.S. Supreme Court's decision to grant access to federal courts for the detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, potentially muddying his reputation as a critic of the administration's approach to treatment of suspected terrorists.

"We made it very clear these are enemy combatants," he told more than 1,000 supporters at a town hall meeting here, echoing the president's criticism of the court decision. "They have not, and never have been, given the rights of citizens of this country."

The presumptive GOP nominee then read from Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.'s dissent in the case and predicted the courts will now be "flooded" with lawsuits from terrorism suspects.

"We are going to be bollixed up in a way that's terribly unfortunate," he said. "Our first obligation is the safety and security of this nation and the men and women who defend it. This decision will harm our ability to do that."

At a time when McCain is eager to distance himself from Bush on a variety of issues, the Supreme Court decision forces a public discussion in an area where he and the president fully agree: that allowing detainees access to U.S. courts will undermine the fight against global terrorism.

That discussion has the potential to be politically damaging for McCain, who has strongly opposed the administration on the separate issue of how detainees should be treated. Moderates who are key to McCain's strategy for winning the presidency may be taken aback by what they perceive as a softening of the senator's stand against Bush's torture policy.

Tom Malinowski, who serves as Washington advocacy director at Human Rights Watch, said voters will probably see a contradiction between McCain's efforts to prevent torture and close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay and "his continued support for the underlying legal principle that Guantanamo stands for, namely that detainees should not have access to a normal judicial process."

Democrats, who use the president's treatment of terror suspects as a way to motivate the liberal base, sought Friday to tie McCain to Bush. The liberal Center for American Progress criticized McCain for opposing the court decision merely because "it isn't what the Bush administration wanted."

For several years, McCain has bolstered his reputation as a maverick by challenging the president's approach to the treatment and disposition of people suspected of terrorism.

He was the chief architect of the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, a law that arose out of the revelations of detainee abuse at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and at Guantanamo Bay. McCain, who was tortured after he was captured in Vietnam, took a hard line against the Bush administration, wanting to ban aggressive interrogation techniques and set a moral standard for the rest of the world.

His POW status gave him instant credibility on the issue, which was followed around the world. In the often tense legislative battle with Bush, McCain repeatedly cast the treatment issue as one of respect for human rights.

"Weakening the Geneva protections is not only unnecessary, but would set an example to other countries with less respect for basic human rights that they could issue their own legislative 'reinterpretations,' " he said at the time.

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