Add to My Yahoo!
 
 

Senator Graham offers strong defense of Geneva Convention

RAW STORY
Published: Sunday September 17, 2006

Print This  Email This

In an appearance on CBS's Face The Nation, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) has offered a spirited defense of the Geneva Conventions, while disagreeing with President Bush on the approach to take with prisoner interrogations in the war on terror.

Citing his twenty-two years of service in the Air Force Judge Advocate General Corps, the first term senator said, "We cannot have a great nation when we start redefining who we are under the guise of redefining our law." He stated that he was not concerned about any consequences in his home state as a result of his position on legislation under consideration by the Senate.

Face The Nation host Bob Schieffer said to Graham, "This would seem to me to be a huge political risk for you. You come from a very conservative state. A state that is probably one of the strongest states for President Bush. You're taking on the president on this. I'll bet you that you get a primary opponent as a result of this."

Senator Graham responded, "Well, I'm getting pounded at home by some people -- why can't you work with the president? The president wants to defend us. The CIA needs to get good information. These guys are barbarians. Why are you standing in the way? I'm not standing in the way. I share the same goals, but I'm a military lawyer. Twenty-two years as a member of the Air Force JAG Corps. When I put that uniform on, I took an obligation as a military officer.

"Now I have an obligation as a senator. I admire our president, I want to help him. But the biggest risk in the world is not Lindsey Graham losing an election. We can have a good country without Lindsey Graham being in the Senate. We cannot have a great nation when we start redefining who we are under the guise of redefining our law.

"My biggest fear is that as we try to solve these complicated legal procedures and problems that we're seen as taking shortcuts and we don't redefine the law, we redefine America in a way so we can't win this war. That's what Colin Powell is saying. That's what General Vessey's saying. It's not about my political career. America can do well without me, but we cannot do well if we're seen to abandon our principles and the rule of law."

The transcript of Graham's entire interview follows....

#

MR. SCHIEFFER: Today on "Face the Nation," the Republican rebellion on Capitol Hill. It was supposed to be the week when Republicans came together behind the president to convince Americans they could better protect the country against terrorists than the Democrats. Instead, a nasty brawl broke out among Republicans over the president's plans and whether they were putting American soldiers in danger.

We'll hear from all sides this morning -- South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham, one of the leaders of the rebellion; Democratic Senator Carl Levin; Republican Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter; and the president's National Security Adviser Stephen Hadley.

I'll follow the discussion with a final thought on all of this. But first, the Republican rebellion "Face the Nation."

(Announcements.)

MR. SCHIEFFER: And we start this morning with Senator Graham who's in the studio with us here in Washington and in Philadelphia the Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter. With us from Detroit, Senator Carl Levin who, of course, is the ranking Democrat on the Armed Services Committee.

Senator Graham, I want to talk to you first for a little bit. The president said last week that if the Congress does not write some sort of authority defining basically what the CIA can do in its interrogation that the CIA will simply have to stop interrogating people.

Number one, do you believe that's going to happen? And number two, could you live with that if that's what it came to?

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, the problem we're facing as a nation is sort of like seeing sausage being made that there are three branches of government. The president assumed the Geneva Convention did not apply to the war on terror; humane treatment did. I agree with that. The Supreme Court says the Geneva Convention applies. So what I would like to do is give our president the tools that we need to defend ourselves, an effective CIA program where our agents can't be prosecuted for war crimes ill defined. They can't be sued and lose their houses because they're doing their job. They can defend themselves in court if they're ever accused of doing something by saying I was following orders. The way we do that is very important. The tools that we give them could become clubs to be used against us if we don't watch it.

MR. SCHIEFFER: We'll talk about that. What is wrong, in your view, with what the president wants to do?

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, there's two things after Hamdan decision.

MR. SCHIEFFER: What's Hamdan decision?

SEN. GRAHAM: That was the Supreme Court decision that struck down the military trials of enemy terrorists. We've got to deal with getting the trials back on track and how can we interrogate people within the Geneva Convention. If it's seen that our country is trying to redefine the Geneva Convention to meet the needs of the CIA, why can't every other country redefine the Geneva Convention to meet the needs of their secret police? It would be a disaster. We can protect the program -- the program is people -- but we need not, in my opinion, go down the road as being seen as redefining treaty obligations that have been long-standing.

The Geneva Convention, Bob, is just not some concept. It has saved lives. We adhere to it, and we expect others to do it. I know al Qaeda and Taliban will butcher our people, but this is not the only war we're going to be in. I can give you plenty of examples of where downed pilots -- people caught in foreign countries -- were saved from torture and death because we insisted the Geneva Convention be applied. So that's my concern. I want to create a CIA program that fits within our domestic laws where people won't be charged with ill defined crimes. They won't be frivolously sued. But we cannot and must not and need not change the Geneva Convention in a way that would be perceived as backing out of it. There's a way to get there from here.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, explain to me what you mean when you say if an American is captured --

SEN. GRAHAM: Let me give you a good example.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Well, let's say in Iran.

SEN. GRAHAM: This war can take on many different dimensions. Nation states could become involved not just rogue people like al Qaeda and Taliban. There are CIA agents all over the world trying to protect us. What would happen if a CIA agent were captured in Iran trying to suppress their nuclear program, and the Iranian government put this person on trial as a war criminal, and the Iranian prosecutor had a file marked "secret," gave it to their judge and their jury and said convict this man, and they never shared the evidence with the American agent? We would go nuts. We would say that secret trial violates the Geneva Convention standards for trying people. What if the Iranians gave him a lawyer and allowed the lawyer to look at the evidence the jury had but would not allow the lawyer to talk to the agent about the case against them? What would we do if the Iranians sentenced an American to death based on evidence the American never saw? We would go crazy. Unfortunately, there's 90 percent agreement on how to do these trials after the Supreme Court ruling, but there's a provision in the military commission model of the president's proposal that would allow the jury to get evidence not seen by the accused, call it classified and the person go to jail never knowing what the jury convicted him of.

I'm all for protecting classified information from being unfairly disclosed, but you cannot have a trial and call it an American trial, have a Geneva Convention trial where the person goes to jail and never saw what the jury saw. What does confrontation rights mean? It means you can tell your side of the story. Pedophiles and terrorists -- everybody we try deserves to know what they're accused of so they can defend themselves. And if we do it differently now -- different than we've done in 200 years -- it will come back to haunt us, because other people will start doing this. And imagine an American in a foreign land going to the death chamber never seeing the evidence against them. It would be an outrage against our people, and we can't legitimize that.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Senator, what, in your view, from your point of view, is worse? The impression that you think it would send to other countries and other people around the world or the tactical restraints that it would put on our interrogators?

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, I think that it would be a substantive difference. If you do a trial in a America where we legitimize the jury seeing something the accused can't defend himself against, it's going to come back to haunt us. The Iranian situation could be very real in the coming future.

The worst thing we could do, in my opinion, is to create tools that are seen as legal shortcuts, that erode our standing in the world. We need to change our laws to make them more clear. They are confusing. The president does need a program, the CIA does need a program to get good information. We can do that together. My goal is simple. I want to give the tools to the president to defend us that the Congress can feel good about, that the courts will accept as legal. We need all three branches of government on board.

MR. SCHIEFFER: Let me ask you -- I'll bring in the other senators in a minute.

This would seem to me to be a huge political risk for you. You come from a very conservative state. A state that is probably one of the strongest states for President Bush. You're taking on the president on this. I'll bet you that you get a primary opponent as a result of this.

SEN. GRAHAM: Well, I'm getting pounded at home by some people -- why can't you work with the president? The president wants to defend us. The CIA needs to get good information. These guys are barbarians. Why are you standing in the way? I'm not standing in the way. I share the same goals, but I'm a military lawyer. Twenty-two years as a member of the Air Force JAG Corps. When I put that uniform on, I took an obligation as a military officer. Now I have an obligation as a senator. I admire our president, I want to help him. But the biggest risk in the world is not Lindsey Graham losing an election. We can have a good country without Lindsey Graham being in the Senate. We cannot have a great nation when we start redefining who we are under the guise of redefining our law.

My biggest fear is that as we try to solve these complicated legal procedures and problems that we're seen as taking shortcuts and we don't redefine the law, we redefine America in a way so we can't win this war. That's what Colin Powell is saying. That's what General Vessey's saying. It's not about my political career. America can do well without me, but we cannot do well if we're seen to abandon our principles and the rule of law.

MR. SCHIEFFER: All right.