Military Lawyers Have Their Day

From Holden:

Ignored for nearly five years by the Bush Assministration, military lawyers speak out about detainee rights.

The top lawyers from the Army, Navy, Air Force and Marines contradicted the Bush administration on Thursday on how to bring terror suspects to trial, endorsing an approach that extends more human and legal rights to detainees than one that administration lawyers have pressed Congress to authorize.

Testimony by the military lawyers to the Senate Armed Services Committee provided a new indication of divisions within the administration about how far to extend the protections of the Geneva Conventions to terror suspects. Those fissures appear to reflect the same disagreements between White House conservatives and the military that have long left the government split on questions about the treatment of terror suspects.


The military lawyers, who were repeatedly rebuffed by the administration starting in 2001 in discussions about how to treat detainees, were welcomed as heroes at the hearing on Thursday by Republicans and Democrats alike, suggesting the Senate’s disinclination to go along with the president’s approach.

Brig. Gen. Kevin M. Sandkuhler, the top lawyer for the Marines, called the code of military justice “the gold standard.”

Of the president’s tribunals, Rear Adm. James McPherson, the top Navy lawyer, said, “I think the existing procedures are wanting.”


While another hearing this week featured sharp exchanges between administration lawyers and senators from both parties — Mr. Graham told the lawyers that they should “forget about” the tribunals President Bush tried to set up — the hearing with the military lawyers consisted mostly of senators and witnesses affirming their shared views.

Senator Warner told the military lawyers that “there’s certainly no consensus here to just rubber-stamp what’s in place.”

When Senator Carl Levin of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the committee, suggested that “none of you believe we should simply ratify” the president’s approach, he was met with a string of nods from the uniformed lawyers on the panel.

And when Mr. McCain asked if Secretary England had done the right thing in declaring that the Geneva Conventions extended to detainees, the panel nodded again.