It’s not about the terrorists; it’s about Lindsey Graham

The New York Times has sent Sen. Lindsey Graham a love letter as his reward for blocking the Jim Haynes nomination and advocating the rights of terrorist detainees. The Times’ homage follows a bouquet from Sen. Hillary Clinton who, the Times reports, gushed last week that Graham’s pro-terrorist rights stance represents

a perfect example of when someone’s experience can be used to inform an issue. He comes to it from his own experience and deeply held convictions about the importance of our military code of justice and an understanding as to the damage that has been done to our standing in general and the potential dangers in particular to our men and women in uniform.

Never mind that Graham’s views are founded on rhetoric that does not even purport to draw from his knowledge of military law. Consider this gem:

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. But are we required to do it because of what we believe? Yes.

Nothing in Graham’s experience with the JAG Corps gives him any special status to opine on whether our treatment of terrorists is “about” them or us (assuming that this dichotomy makes any sense as a method of making policy) or to tell us how our beliefs “require” us to treat terrorists. Moreover, one could concede that the issue is solely about “us” and still conclude that we should use interrogation techniques that offend Graham because the information will help protect “us.”

But the Times article does provide insight into a question that a few readers have asked me — what is the source of Graham’s pro-terrorist rights crusade? It’s been clear for some time that the crusade has to do with a strong emotional attachment Graham has to the JAG Corps. The Times story provides this explanation for that attachment:

Mr. Graham. . .grew up in the rooms behind the bar and liquor store his parents owned in Central, S.C., a textile town. The first in his family to go to college, he joined R.O.T.C. and wanted to fly but was disqualified by what he calls “lack of math ability and bad hearing.”

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.”

As I’ve argued, though, the issue isn’t whether the JAG Corps is a wonderful institution or whether our system of military justice represents a fine way to deal with our military personnel. The issue is whether, or to what extent, that system should be extended to terrorists. All Graham has to offer on this matter are high-sounding phrases that impress the New York Times and Hillary Clinton, but assume away any tension between lenient treatment of terrorists and our ability, for example, to obtain information that will protect the national security.

That, plus his autobiography.

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