Retired generals, admirals to talk torture with Presidential hopefuls, but McCain won't be there
A group of retired generals and admirals will sit down for informal discussions with four presidential candidates in New Hampshire over the course of this weekend. A human rights group has organized the discussions to allow the military veterans to deliver messages to the 2008 hopefuls on US detention policy in the war on terrorism and the use of torture.
But one key candidate who has become known for his anti-torture advocacy, Senator John McCain (R-AZ), will not be in attendance.
"Unfortunately, the senator will be in Iowa and DC this weekend," a member of McCain's presidential campaign staff told RAW STORY via e-mail.
McCain wasn't alone among Republican candidates who did not arrange to meet with the retired officers. Only four Democratic candidates had confirmed meeting times during the weekend – Senator Hillary Clinton, Senator Joseph Biden, Rep. Dennis Kucinich, and former Senator John Edwards – according to Rear Admiral John Hutson, (ret.), President and Dean of the Franklin Pierce Law Center, in Concord, NH, which is hosting the discussions.
Human Rights First, which organized the event, emphasized that it was continuing to work to get other candidates briefings on detention and interrogations. One of the participating retired generals explicitly left the door open to future dialog.
"Not everyone has shown up, and we want to state clearly they were all invited, and all encouraged to attend, all would have been welcome," said retired four star General Charles Krulak, former Commandant of the Marine Corps, in a Friday morning conference call. "We don't think its from a lack of interest, and we're going to make it a point to get with each one of them in the next months."
Human Rights First organized the sit downs with 20 former admirals and generals in New Hampshire, which hosts the first presidential primary in 2008, to raise awareness with candidates from both parties about detention and interrogation issues in the war on terrorism.
"These retired officers believe those who seek to be Commander in Chief should be well conversant with issues related to the Geneva Conventions and the rules governing treatment of detainees," the group, formerly known as the Lawyers' Committee on Human Rights, said in a press release. "This group of experienced military leaders...intend to have a candid discussion with the candidates, which they hope will help to ensure that the candidates are better informed as they speak about these issues on the campaign trail, and ultimately as one of them assumes the highest office in the nation."
The group of retired officers emphasized that they were working to make the question of detention and interrogation a nonpartisan issue in the course of the 2008 presidential election.
"Wouldn't it be great if the principal candidates agreed with one another, and this subject was off the table as campaign issue, with unanimity about how this will go forward?" asked Joseph P. Hoar, another retired four-star General who was formerly Commander in Chief of the US Central Command.
But they also emphasized the difficulties of having a rational discussion about detention and interrogation policy in the era of popular television programs like Fox's 24 and ABC's Lost.
General Krulak said that beyond the mistakes made by the administration in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo Bay, "We have a society now based on certain shows on TV that also is becoming very much inured to a sense of what torture is, what's acceptable, and what isn't."
Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), the ranking Republican on the House Armed Services Committee, who is running for president, demonstrated how interrogation and detention policy could become a partisan issue in the course of the campaign during a committee hearing on the future of Guantanamo Bay two weeks ago.
"It's right to keep Guantanamo open," he said in a committee hearing on the future of Guantanamo Bay last Friday. "The idea that we're going to take these hardened terrorists who are very effective in killing people and move them to communities throughout the United States I think is very ill-founded."