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Insiders Side With White House on Senate's Detainee Provisions Insiders Side With White House on Senate's Detainee Provisions

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National Security Insiders Poll / INSIDERS POLL

Insiders Side With White House on Senate's Detainee Provisions

Urge Washington to Quietly Continue War Tempo After Pakistan Airstrike

photo of Sara Sorcher
December 4, 2011

National Journal's National Security Insiders sided with the Obama administration and the Pentagon in their opposition to the controversial detainee provisions the Senate adopted as part of its massive defense authorization bill.

After weeks of contentious debate, Senate Armed Services Committee leaders prevailed in their push for language in the authorization bill that would require mandatory military detention for some terrorism suspects—despite a White House veto threat and opposition by senior law-enforcement and intelligence officials who argued the provision reduces their flexibility in handling the war on terror.

By a narrow majority, 55 percent of NJ's pool of national-security and foreign-policy experts sided with the White House over lawmakers such as Armed Services Chairman Carl Levin, D-Mich., and ranking member John McCain, R-Ariz., who argue the new provision’s requirements merely “codify” existing procedure. They also insist that a waiver in the bill gives the executive branch ultimate control.

 

“On this one, the White House is correct,” one Insider said. “Tying the hands of the administration only helps the terrorists. They do not abide by the Geneva Conventions; they deserve no sympathy, much less Miranda rights or the equivalent.”

The bill survived despite strong opposition from heavyweight Democrats, including Majority Whip Dick Durbin of Illinois, Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein of California, and Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont. Defense Secretary Leon Panetta also spoke out against it, warning that the provisions would “needlessly complicate efforts by front-line law enforcement personnel to utilize, in a swift and flexible fashion, all the counterterrorism tools that are now legally available.”

The other 45 percent of Insiders sided with the full Senate, which passed the authorization bill by a vote of 93-7 with the provisions included. “The lack of a coherent detainee and interrogation policy under this administration threatens our ability to gain life-saving intelligence from terrorists,” one Insider said. Another said the current standoff is simply “another example of White House abdicating leadership” because it hasn’t built a sustainable detention policy.

“It is best to codify legally the detention powers of the military. This will help the U.S. avert future international legal and political challenges to U.S. practice,” one Insider said. “U.S. military forces will have to hold for a long time some dangerous detainees for whom evidence sufficient for conviction in a civilian court will not exist. The legal basis for this detention should be debated publicly and then be enshrined into law.”

The Senate passed a last-minute compromise amendment that explicitly states the detainee provisions wouldn’t alter any existing authorities when applied to U.S. citizens, but one Insider speculated that the language is likely to be toughened up when the bill moves to conference with the House. “And rightly so,” the Insider said. “The White House prefers that terrorists be treated as common criminals. That they are certainly not. Terrorists who don’t respect the Geneva Convention are not entitled to the generous protections provided by American law to American suspects.”

Pakistan ordered the U.S. to leave a base it uses for drone attacks and blocked ground supply routes to coalition forces in Afghanistan since a U.S. airstrike killed two dozen Pakistani soldiers at a military outpost along the border. Still, 64 percent of Insiders said Washington should continue expressing public concern, but quietly continue the war tempo unabated. "This has been an effective strategy for 10 years. It works for Pakistan and the U.S," one Insider said.

Yet some Insiders cautioned that Pakistan’s demands, especially in light of recent tensions inflamed after the covert U.S. operation that killed Osama bin Laden not far from the capital, are pushing the limits of Washington's patience. "Pakistan needs to decide whether it is our ally in this war or not," one Insider said. "An ally would be willing to overlook casualties by friendly fire in service of the common objective of winning the war. The absurdity of continuing to subsidize a government that collaborates with both us and our enemy is becoming harder to ignore."

Another 18 percent said this is the time for Washington to take a stronger tone and pledge to continue operations despite Pakistan's objections. “Pakistan has played the U.S. like a monkey for decades,” one Insider said.

1. Senate Armed Services Committee leadership argues it's necessary to create military-detention requirements within the defense authorization bill, but the White House says those provisions micromanage and constrain the president's authority to collect intelligence and capture terrorists. Who's right?

(45 votes)

  • White House/Pentagon  55%
  • SASC   45%

White House/Pentagon

"On this one, the White House is correct. Tying the hands of the administration only helps the terrorists. They do not abide by the Geneva Conventions; they deserve no sympathy, much less Miranda rights or the equivalent."

"McCain still wants to be president."

SASC

"The lack of a coherent detainee and interrogation policy under this administration threatens our ability to gain life-saving intelligence from terrorists."

"Protecting the military from unauthorized activities."

"Another example of White House abdicating leadership. They have not worked to build a sustainable detention policy."

"It is best to codify legally the detention powers of the military. This will help the U.S. avert future international legal and political challenges to U.S. practice.  U.S. military forces will have to hold for a long time some dangerous detainees for whom evidence sufficient for conviction in a civilian court will not exist. The legal basis for this detention should be debated publicly and then be enshrined into law."

"The compromise language is likely to be toughened up again in conference. And rightly so. The White House prefers that terrorists be treated as common criminals. That they are certainly not. Terrorists who don't respect the Geneva Convention are not entitled to the generous protections provided by American law to American suspects." 

2. Tensions with Pakistan escalated sharply in the aftermath of the deadly U.S. air strike on military bases along its border with Afghanistan. What measures should the U.S. take to deal with the emerging crisis?

(45 votes)

  • Continue to express public concern, but quietly continue the war tempo unabated   64%
  • Take a stronger tone, pledge to continue operations despite Pakistan's objections  18%
  • Reduce counterterrorism operations along the border until relations improve  9%
  • Reduce aid to Pakistan  9%

Continue to express public concern, but quietly continue the war tempo unabated

"Pakistan needs to decide whether it is our ally in this war or not.  An ally would be willing to overlook casualties by friendly fire in service of the common objective of winning the war. The absurdity of continuing to subsidize a government that collaborates with both us and our enemy is becoming harder to ignore."

"Our primary strategic problem is not Taliban control of Afghanistan, but a nuclear-armed Pakistan controlled by radicals. The dilemma is that we need Pakistan to prosecute our Afghan war, while we also know Pakistan is enabling our enemies there. This tragedy has severe implications for Americans in uniform. They have to fight the enemy they see, but in doing so, they damage our long-term interests by further radicalizing the Pakistanis - just what al-Qaida and the Taliban want. We need a new strategic approach that focuses on our larger interests."

"This has been an effective strategy for 10 years. It works for Pakistan and the U.S."

"Our strategy thus far has been to persevere as best we can but continue to go after authorized targets."

"The fog of war is ever-present, but should not fog our focus on the most important isues."

Take a stronger tone, pledge to continue operations despite Pakistan's objections

"Pakistan has played the U.S. like a monkey for decades. It's a recurrent problem, exacerbated by American equivocation about nuclear-weapons development (during the 1980s) and then the sense that we 'needed to do something' to try to abate jihadi extremism arising out of the Pakistani elite's indifference to their country's slide. BREAK with Pakistan, and leave it to the Chinese -- who loathe and fear Pakistan, not least for the shelter it provides to 20-30,000 Uighurs living in and around Rawalpindi."

Reduce counterterrorism operations along the border until relations improve

"We need a cooling-off period with the Pakistanis, not least so they can climb down and re-open the border for NATO resupply."

"End this idiotic, ever-expanding, and totally counterproductive war on both sides of the border before we stumble into World War III."

"Previously when NATO forces accidentally killed two Pakistani security forces, trucks with supplies for NATO forces in Afghanistan were stopped for 11 days. Now the stoppage could be longer, a potential serious threat to readiness of NATO forces, despite increased use of the Northern Distribution Network. The Pakistani government will need some breathing room and NATO should lay low for awhile. NATO should also offer to post more observers at Pakistani border posts to improve emergency communications and reduce potential misunderstandings."

Reduce aid to Pakistan

"The culprit here is Obama's cut-and-run strategy ... which encourages Pakistan to cooperate with Taliban."

     

    National Journal’s National Security Insiders Poll is a periodic survey of defense and foreign-policy experts. They are:

    Gordon Adams, Charles Allen, Thad Allen, James Bamford, David Barno, Samuel "Sandy" Berger, David Berteau, Stephen Biddle, Nancy Birdsall, Milt Bearden, Peter Bergen, Kit Bond, Paula Broadwell, Steven Bucci, Nicholas Burns, Dan Byman, James Jay Carafano, Phillip Carter, Michael Chertoff, Frank Cilluffo, James Clad, Richard Clarke, Steve Clemons, Joseph Collins, William Courtney, Roger Cressey, Gregory Dahlberg, Richard Danzig, Andrew Exum, William Fallon, Eric Farnsworth, Jacques Gansler, Daniel Goure, Mike Green, Mark Gunzinger, Jim Harper, Michael Hayden, Pete Hoekstra, Bruce Hoffman, Paul Hughes, Donald Kerrick, Lawrence Korb, Andrew Krepinevich, Charlie Kupchan, W. Patrick Lang, James Lindsay, Trent Lott, Brian McCaffrey, Steven Metz, Franklin Miller, Philip Mudd, John Nagl, Kevin Nealer, Paul Pillar, Stephen Rademaker, Marc Raimondi, Celina Realuyo, Bruce Riedel, Barry Rhoads, Marc Rotenberg, Kori Schake, Mark Schneider, John Scofield, Tammy Schultz, Stephen Sestanovich, Sarah Sewall, Jennifer Sims, Constanze Stelzenmüller, Frances Townsend, Mick Trainor, Suzanne Spaulding, Ted Stroup, Dov Zakheim.

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