In November, Americans voiced their frustration with the war in Iraq and gave control of Congress to the Democrats. The voters rejected the president's swaggering, go-it-alone approach and the administration's contemptuous attitude toward the Geneva Conventions, which led to the abuses at Abu Ghraib, actions that so damaged our credibility that other nations are much less willing to cooperate in the war on terrorism. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, and her able legal adviser, John Bellinger, have pushed for reforms that have begun to reverse this trend -- but much more must be done.
Sens. Christopher J. Dodd and Patrick J. Leahy
First, Congress should reconsider the detainee legislation passed last fall. Last-minute changes rammed through by the White House watered down many of the bill's key provisions. On the treatment of detainees and interrogation techniques it created two standards -- one for the military and another for the CIA. The standards for the military are in an Army Field Manual, but the CIA standards are to be enumerated in a presidential executive order. Rumors suggest that the White House is struggling to develop those rules. Congress should relieve the president of that task before he makes a bad situation worse.
If Vice President Cheney has his way, a good dunking may be among the approved CIA techniques, even though "waterboarding" is prohibited by the Army Field Manual. Cheney's
It is not clear why the military and the CIA should have different standards for the treatment and interrogation of detainees. All U.S. agencies should use the techniques best able to elicit information that is vital to our security. And why should the CIA once again be asked to take risks not knowing whether, when the political winds change in Washington, its officers will be left facing charges that they violated the law?
Hearings should be held to determine which interrogation techniques have produced useful intelligence. Lawmakers should review the recent
Second, Congress should repeal the provisions that stripped detainees at Guantanamo Bay and elsewhere of the right of habeas corpus and that instead gave them an extremely limited right to challenge their detentions. A federal appeals court, interpreting lawmakers' last effort, ruled Tuesday that
Third, Congress should also examine the practice of "rendition," or sending detainees to countries for trial or detention where, it is alleged, they can be mistreated or tortured. Before the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, rendition was a valuable but selectively used tool of U.S. law enforcement and intelligence agencies. Since Sept. 11 it has been used extensively, and its continued viability has been questioned. Congress should establish a solid legal footing for renditions, including measures to ensure that anyone sent to another country is not mistreated.
The administration should listen, really listen, to the American people and to those in Congress and the military who understand that adhering to international law and our core values will help us win the war on terrorism. It will take years to get out of the hole we're in, but if Congress leads and the president understands, we can begin climbing out.