It’s rare that Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Carl Levin (D-Mi) suffers from a political tin ear. A week after the Supreme Court’s poorly-reasoned and outrageous decision granting the Constitutional right of habeas corpus to terrorists at the Guantanamo Bay naval base, Levin today will chair a hearing supposedly investigating the “origins of aggressive interrogation techniques.”
It’s just another voyage for Captain Ahab Levin in his endless quest to harpoon Moby Bush on the Iraq war. The last time we reported on this, Levin’s idea for a media show trial to label Bush administration lawyers as torturer-mongers was just in the planning stages. Today — possibly aided and abetted by certain news organizations that Levin’s staff is apparently spoon-feeding — Levin will hold his first hearing.
The object of today’s show is to create the impression that the “aggressive interrogation techniques” — not even Levin wants to call them torture — originated with his favorite boogeymen, Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney.
The Armed Services Committee’s witness list for today is pretty obviously taken from a May 2008 Vanity Fair article that argues (against the established facts it cites) the theory that among the White House, Justice Department and Pentagon staffers were a “torture team” of lawyers whose job it was to free the Bush administration from any constraints of the law or the Geneva Conventions. It implies a false paper trail created to exonerate the "torture team" and its bosses. From the witness list – and from stories published last night — it’s apparent that Levin’s hearing will follow the Vanity Fair script.
One Associated Press story released at about 6:24 pm Monday quotes Levin as saying, "Senior officials in the United States government sought out information on aggressive techniques, twisted the law to create the appearance of their legality and authorized their use against detainees." That story, apparently spoon-fed to the AP by Levin’s staff, previews the conclusion of the show trial: "According to the Senate committee’s findings, [former Pentagon general counsel Jim] Haynes became interested in using harsher interrogation methods in as early as July 2002 when he sent a memo inquiring about a military program that trained Army soldiers how to survive enemy interrogations and deny foes valuable intelligence." Today’s hearing seems aimed at Haynes as well as the other witnesses.
There’s only one problem with the Vanity Fair piece and Levin’s theory: the facts.
After the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, and every journalist began piling on, a series of investigations into detainee treatment were done. The most famous (and secret until leaked illegally to Vanity Fair’s Seymour Hersh) was the report by Army Major General Anthony Taguba. Then an independent panel commissioned to review Defense Department detainee operations was appointed by then-Secretary of Defense Rumsfeld. The panel was chaired by James Schlesinger (who was Secretary of Defense in the Nixon administration and Secretary of Energy for Jimmy Carter). Carter Defense Secretary Harold Brown, former Florida Republican Cong. Tillie Fowler and retired Air Force General Charles Horner comprised the rest of the panel.
The Schlesinger Panel concluded: “There is no evidence of a policy of abuse promulgated by senior officials or military authorities.”
It’s hard to see how the Schlesinger Report can be read as anything other than an exoneration of the Bush administration senior officials — i.e., Cheney and Rumsfeld — and the lawyers on the charge that there was a top-down imposition of a pro-abuse policy. Today’s hearing apparently proceeds on one of two theories: either Schlesinger, Brown & Co. were incompetent dupes, or there is some new revelation that Vanity Fair (and the rest of the 527 Media) or the Levin staff have found.
Levin risks much with this hearing. The Democrats have spent the past four years blaming the Bush administration for the abuse — real or imagined — of terrorist detainees. And the American public has grown less and less patient with those who have tied up in the courts the trial and punishment of terrorists in our custody.
We know why the trials haven’t been conducted: liberal lawyers and “human rights” groups have tied the terrorist cases in knots for years. Last week’s Supreme Court decision in Boumediene v. Bush wasn’t the first such case. In fact, it’s the biannual installment in changing the law of detainee trials (the Hamdi Supreme Court decision came in 2004, followed by Hamdan in 2006. Boumediene is the latest installment to throw the law into confusion and indecision. Each case has kept even admitted 9-11 attack planner Khalid Sheik Mohammed from being brought to trial).
So while the lawyers fiddle, justice is delayed and Americans grow angrier. Not at the president or his lawyers, but the lawyers who are stalling what should be justice that is lawful, swift and fair.
This issue resonates with voters. I attended the East Room event in mid-September 2006 when President Bush announced what he would ask Congress to do in the aftermath of Hamdan. It was a dramatic moment. At the time, Democrats held a commanding lead in the mid-term election polls. When George Bush spoke of how he’d tackle the problem of delivering justice to captured enemies, the Dems’ lead almost disappeared overnight, only to recover before the elections.
Which is why it’s astounding that Levin is again planting the Democrats’ flag with those who worry more about terrorists’ civil rights and who would delay the justice those such as KSM deserves.
Levin is hurtling into the most dangerous problem the Dems face on the subject of the war: voters want to win this war and the Dems are doing everything they can to prevent that outcome. Beginning this morning and continuing perhaps for days, two dramas will play out.
First, Levin and his staff will be spoon-feeding the 527 Media (and especially the Democrats’ reliable ally, AP) on the horrors of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay and whatever phobias the elites’ fevered brows still suffer over the treatment of terrorist prisoners. (We’ll be watching carefully the AP coverage, because last night’s story is probably the beginning of a series, crafted in the manner of the same treatment AP gave Hillary Clinton in its entirely concocted “Rumsfeld refuses to testify” series in August 2006).
Second, the rest of the 527 Media will go along with Levin and once again portray the Bush administration as a collection of torturers and liars.
They would do better to re-read the Schlesinger report. Its conclusion begins, “The vast majority of detainees in Guantanamo, Afghanistan and Iraq were treated appropriately, and the great bulk of detention operations were conducted in compliance with US policy directives.”
Unless there is new, direct and material evidence otherwise, that conclusion will not be disturbed today. Nor will be the proofs of the AP’s willingness to be a tool of the Democrats campaign against the war.
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