Sens. Joe Lieberman and Lindsey Graham vowed Wednesday to shut down Senate business to save legislation that would bar the release of photographs showing alleged U.S. abuses of suspected terrorist detainees.
The fight pits two often independent voices of the Senate against Democrats in the House, who are under pressure from the American Civil Liberties Union and other liberal anti-war groups to drop the no-photos provision from a final version of a war-spending bill. The bill including the provision won unanimous approval in the Senate, according to Roll Call and other publications.
"If this amendment is dropped, Senator Graham and I will not go quietly into the night," said Lieberman, an independent Democrat who chairs the Homeland Security Committee. "The safety of our troops and our nation . . . is on the line. We will use all of the legislative tools at our disposal to see to it that this amendment prohibiting the release of these photographs of detainees will be adopted."
Lieberman made the comment at a news conference Tuesday where Graham added, "That's why we're not going to do any more business in the Senate. So nothing's going forward until we get this right."
Both men have stressed that they are less concerned about legal principles involved than what they describe as a grave threat to U.S. troops if the photographs are released. U.S. military commanders have told the Obama administration that releasing the photos could cause a surge in violence in Iraq and Afghanistan. U.S. embassies also are said to be preparing for attacks in hotbed countries in the Middle East.
Graham, a South Carolina Republican who is an expert on military law and a JAG officer in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, told Politico that officials at the U.S. Embassy in Morocco recently told him they are forming a “game plan to fortify the embassy” to deal with possible acts of violence if the photos and videotapes are released.
Graham and Lieberman sponsored the prohibition as part of the Senate version of the nearly $100 billion spending bill for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, according to The Washington Times. It was added to the measure to head off a federal court case that could force the release of the detainee photos.
House Democratic leaders have delayed the bill in part because they maintain they don’t have enough votes to pass it if the photo provision is included. The problem is that many liberal members of Congress object to the Graham-Lieberman provision.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who initially said she would support the amendment, now thinks it’s “likely” the measure will be stripped in a conference committee.
Graham read a recent Pelosi statement saying she would “support” the Obama administration’s push to keep the photos secret — then accused the speaker of being captured by “fringe” liberals in her own party clamoring for the photos’ release.
The photos were part of the evidence in criminal investigations against guards accused of mistreating inmates at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and at the detention camp at the U.S. Navy base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.
The photographs do not shed new light on the past mistreatment of detainees, for which more than 400 people have been investigated or punished, the senators and others, including President Barack Obama, have stressed. But the images could serve as a recruiting tool for al-Qaida, leading to more terrorist attacks and more U.S. casualties in Iraq and Afghanistan.
Graham also said he is enlisted the support of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for his measure, but the State Department had no comment Wednesday, according to Politico.
Transparency in government is a cherished American value, Graham said, adding, "But it is not without limits, no more than any of the values embraced in our Constitution."
Both men have threatened to mount a filibuster to the war-spending bill. They also plan to add the photo-release prohibition to other bills, which would help stall legislation in the chamber. It already has been introduced to a bill currently on the senate floor that would extend the Food and Drug Administration jurisdiction to tobacco products.
President Obama reversed course last month to side with the senators and fight the release of the photographs. The president said photos would only "inflame anti-American opinion" and endanger U.S. troops, echoing concerns the two senators and military commanders raised.
The ACLU and several liberal Democrats have said they felt betrayed by the Obama administration. The ACLU asked the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to affirm a district court ruling requiring the release of the photos, which originally were sought in a Freedom of Information Act request the Bush administration fought unsuccessfully.
The Obama administration said it is prepared to go to the U.S. Supreme Court to try to keep the photos secret.
“The publication of these photos would not add any additional benefit to our understanding of what was carried out in the past by a small number of individuals,” Obama recently told reporters.
“In fact, the most direct consequence of releasing them, I believe, would be to further inflame anti-American opinion and to put our troops in greater danger."
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