Detainee Compromise Reportedly Near

The Associated Press says that the White House is close to reaching a compromise with Republican Senators McCain, Graham and Warner on a bill providing for military trials of detainees:

Warner, McCain, Graham and [Stephen] Hadley met at mid-afternoon with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist in the Capitol. The session came a few hours after Frist phoned the lawmakers and strongly urged them to reach a compromise after more than a week of Republican discord.

White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said in an e-mail there was not yet an agreement, but added, “Good trajectory. Stand by for confirmation.”

Beyond that, the AP gets most everything wrong. It reports:

Republican Sens. John McCain, John Warner and Lindsey Graham [are] seeking a provision to make it clear that torture of suspects is barred.

This makes no sense, since, as we noted here, the administration’s bill defines Common Article III of the Geneva Convention, which the Supreme Court held applicable to the treatment of al Qaeda detainees in Hamdan, by incorporating by reference Section 1003 of McCain’s own Detainee Treatment Act of 2005. So, assuming that McCain understands his own statute to prohibit torture–as it certainly does–the same prohibition is already incorporated into the administration’s proposed statute.

The administration’s proposal also makes it clear that evidence procured by torture is not admissible in the military trials of detainees. See section 948r(b).

The AP continues:

Bush’s former secretary of state, Colin Powell, dismayed the administration when he sided with Warner, McCain and Graham. He said Bush’s plan, which would have formally changed the U.S. view of the Geneva Conventions on rules of warfare, would cause the world “to doubt the moral basis” of the fight against terror and “put our own troops at risk.”

This is wrong, too. The President’s plan wouldn’t “change the U.S. view of the Geneva Conventions on rules of warfare.” Until Hamdan, the U.S. view had been that Geneva did not apply to terrorist detainees. It was Hamdan that “changed the U.S. view,” and Bush’s proposal is a good faith effort to implement that misguided decision. It would be nice if the Associated Press could report on these issues without hopelessly garbling the facts.

I’d like to see a compromise struck, mostly so that newly-captured terrorists can be interrogated. I don’t think there is any urgency about trying the fourteen who are already at Guantanamo, and I assume they have told us pretty much everything they are going to. The other consequence of a compromise, of course, is that it will put the Democrats on the spot. Until now, they have had cover, as the press has portrayed the dispute as an intra-party Republican matter, notwithstanding the fact that only a handful of the 55 Republicans in the Senate, and few if any Republicans in the House, were unwilling to go along with the administration’s plan. Now the Democrats will have to take a stand, one way or the other. Watch for the Senate Dems’ votes to flop mostly depending on whether they are up for re-election.

UPDATE: An agreement apparently has been reached, although details are sketchy. According to the AP, one aspect of the deal is that the deal is that the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 will not be used to define the U.S.’s obligations under the Geneva Convention. Which means that McCain refused to accept his own language as the definition of proper treatment of terrorists. Seems odd, doesn’t it?

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