Generous Orthodoxy  

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

US Senator Graham fights for American values

New York Times article by Kate Zernike
Published: July 18, 2006

WASHINGTON, July 17 — Republican Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina [is] the Senate’s foremost expert on military law in the midst of the emotional debate over what rights to provide to terror suspects.

Mr. Graham advocates using the existing court-martial system as the basis for trying suspects...Drawing on his own experience and a deep personal loyalty to the military justice system, Mr. Graham is working across party lines to try to assemble a consensus for his approach...

His views are shaped not only by his understanding of the law, but also by his respect for an institution he credits with changing his life, by shaping his career and allowing him to support his 13-year-old sister after his parents died when he was in college. His belief in the integrity of the military code has repeatedly led him to resist the White House when it comes to defining the treatment of people accused of being terrorists.

Last year, against the wishes of the Bush administration, he was one of the key forces in helping pass a ban on torture. Last week, he raised questions about the judicial nomination of William J. Haynes II, the Pentagon general counsel who helped write a memorandum that narrowly defined torture only as treatment that causes pain similar to death or major organ failure... Mr. Graham has insisted that only a system grounded in the fundamental rights of the military code and the Geneva conventions will affirm the reputation of the United States abroad and protect American troops when they are captured by enemies.

“I’m trying to remind the Senate that the rules we set up speak more about us than it does the enemy,” Mr. Graham said in an interview. “The enemy has no rules. They don’t give people trials, they summarily execute them and they’re brutal, inhuman creatures. But when we capture one of them, what we do is about us, not about them.

“Do they deserve, the bad ones, all the rights that are afforded? No." [and here, we might recall Hamlet's observation, 'use every man after his deserts, and who shall 'scape whipping?'] "But are we required to do it because of what we believe? Yes.”

“I’m a big fan of the Geneva Conventions,” he declared.

Mr. Graham, who turned 51 last week, grew up in the rooms behind the bar and liquor store his parents owned in Central, S.C., a textile town....When his mother died when he was 21, the Air Force allowed him to continue his education instead of going into the service, so he could stay home. When his father died 15 months later, the service said he could attend law school in South Carolina so he could stay with his sister, and when he finished, the service posted him as a defense counsel to South Carolina so he could adopt her. After she went to college, he went to Europe as a military prosecutor.

“It changed my life,” he said of the military legal corps. “It exposed me to things. I got to spend four years in Europe. I was thrown into court as a young defense attorney doing things, with responsibilities you’d never have in the civilian world as a lawyer.”

Senator John W. Warner of Virginia, chairman of the Armed services Committee, has, along with Senator John McCain of Arizona, been one of Mr. Graham’s Republican allies in bucking the White House on the torture issue. “In an extraordinary way,” Mr. Warner said, “he overcame many obstacles and misfortunes that others never could imagine. His goals posts in life are to do what’s best for the country, what’s best for the military.”

From his time on the defense, Mr. Graham says, he learned that the system provides fairness; from his time as a prosecutor, he came to see the importance of military discipline. For that reason, he said, it is important that soldiers continue to be trained using the Geneva Conventions, even in a war against a new kind of enemy. “If a marine caught Osama bin Laden tomorrow, they’re all trained to treat everyone as a prisoner of war under Geneva,” he said. “You don’t want to change that, because you don’t want to confuse your troops out there.”

It becomes trickier, Mr. Graham said, when coming up with the rules for interrogation. He argues that Congress must define what the conventions mean by “humiliating” or “degrading” treatment.

Still, he disputes the assertion of some Republicans that using the court-martial system will result in soldiers’ having to stop in the middle of capturing a terrorist to read him his Miranda rights.

“That’s an offense to the military legal community, who’s telling us there’s a better way, to suggest that that better way would hamper us,” he said. “It’s political rhetoric that’s got to stop.”