Speeches & Floor Statements

Floor Remarks of U.S. Sen. Lamar Alexander - Policies Related to Detainees from the War on Terror

Posted on July 29, 2005

Mr. President, when the Senate reconvenes in September, one of the first orders of business will be the Defense Authorization Bill. During August, I respectfully suggest the president reconsider his opposition to legislation that would set the rules for the treatment and interrogation of detainees. I have decided to cosponsor three amendments to the Defense Authorization Bill that clarify our policies relative to detainees from the war on terror. There has been some debate about whether it is appropriate for Congress to set rules on the treatment of detainees, but for me this question isn’t even close. The people, through their elected representatives, should set the rules for how detainees and prisoners under U.S. control are treated and interrogated. In the short term, the president can set the rules, but the war on terror is now nearly 4 years old. We don't want judges making up the rules. So, for the long term, the people should set the rules. That is why we have an independent Congress. In fact, the Constitution says, quite clearly, that is what Congress should do: Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution says that Congress, and Congress alone, shall have the power to “make Rules concerning Captures on Land and Water.” So Congress has a responsibility to set clear rules here. But the spirit of these amendments is really one that I hope the White House will decide to embrace. In essence, these amendments codify military procedures and policies, procedures in the Army Field Manual, policies regarding compliance with the Convention Against Torture signed by President Reagan and policies the Defense Department has set regarding the classification of detainees. That’s right. All three of these amendments uphold or codify policies and procedures the administration says we are following today and intend to follow moving forward. Senator Graham’s amendment, #1505, authorizes the system the Defense Department has created – Combat Status Review Tribunals – which are there for determining whether a detainee is a lawful or unlawful combatant and then ensures that information from interrogating those detainees was derived from following the rules regarding their treatment. Senator Graham’s amendment also allows the President to make adjustments when necessary as long as he notifies Congress. The first McCain Amendment, #1556, prohibits cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment of detainees. The amendment is in specific compliance with the Convention Against Torture that was signed by President Reagan. The administration says that we are already upholding those standards when it comes to treatment of detainees, so this should be no problem. The second McCain Amendment, #1557, states simply that the interrogation techniques used by the military on detainees shall be those specified by the Army Field Manual on Intelligence Interrogation. The military, not Congress, writes that manual, and we are told that the techniques specified in that manual will do the job. Further, the manual is under revision now to include techniques related to unlawful combatants, including classified portions, that will continue to give the President and the military a great deal of flexibility. If the president thinks these are the wrong rules, I hope he will submit new ones to Congress so that we can debate and pass them. I am one senator who would give great weight to the president’s views on this matter. It’s quite possible the Graham and McCain amendments need to be altered to set the right rules, but it is time for Congress to act. This has been a gray area for the courts. In this gray area, the question is who should set the rules. In the short term, surely the president can. In the longer term, the people should, through their elected representatives. We don’t want the courts to write the rules. So, in summary, Mr. President, it is time for Congress, which represents the people, to clarify and set the rules for detention and interrogation of our enemies. During the next few weeks, I hope the White House will tell us what rules and procedures the president needs to succeed in the war on terror. That way we can move forward together.