Friday, September 08, 2006

Courage of the JAGs: a defining moment?

National Public Radio had the best coverage of the day on the House Armed Services Committee testimony by the Judge Advocate Generals of the four branches of the U.S. armed forces today.

Hearing it on All Things Considered as I drove across the Atchafalaya Basin bridge on I-10 this afternoon was an amazing experience. I believe something fundamentally changed today with this testimony.

The press today was in absolute awe of Bush/Rove/Cheney's ability to change the agenda from Iraq/Rumsfeld to the squeeze play his team was attempting to put on Democrats with his new plea for congressional approval of his illegal military tribunals for captured alleged terrorists.

That focus on the game, rather than the facts came to a grinding halt today with the testimony of the JAGs.

Steven Bradbury, the assistant attorney general who testified before the Senate panel for the Bush administration, assured lawmakers that this time, the White House got it right.

"These military commission procedures would provide for fundamentally fair trials," Bradbury said. But he also pointed out one provision that is unheard of in courts of law, that "classified evidence may be considered by the commission outside the presence of the accused."

In explaining the policy, Bradbury said that, "In the midst of the current conflict, we cannot share with captured terrorists the highly sensitive intelligence relevant to some military commission prosecutions."

For Gen. James Walker, staff judge advocate of the U.S. Marine Corps, that provision is a major problem.

"I'm not aware of any situation in the world where there is a system of jurisprudence that is recognized by civilized people," he said, "where an individual can be tried without -- and convicted without -- seeing the evidence against him. And I don't think that the United States needs to become the first in that scenario."

The judge advocate generals of the Army, Navy and Air Force who also testified all agreed with Walker. Some also objected to the commissions' admissibility of evidence obtained under coercion that falls short of torture.

The Bush tribunals would not as "a system of jurisprudence that is recognized by civilized people."

Has anymore powerful indictment of the policy of any U.S. administration ever been delivered in Congress by anyone serving on active duty in the military?

In an exchange included in the airing of the segment on ATC but not in the story carried on the site, under questioning from a North Carolina Democrat, Assistant AG Bradbury admitted that the U.S. would not recognize as legitimate the very standards he was defending if captured U.S. servicemen and women were subjected to them at the hands of their captors.

The political desperation of the Bush administration has compelled it to seek rushed Congressional approval of its methods. The reforms are defined as being outside the norms of legitimate jurisprudence. What does that say about the practices that the CIA and the military have been engaged in prior to this rush for cover?

The military has stood up to the administration in a public way that has not happened before. We are in new territory here. The old plays no longer appear to be working.

Mike Stagg
Democratic Candidate for Congress
Lousiana's Seventh District

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