On Face the Nation, Schieffer claimed vaguely defined detainee agreement "shows how we do things in a democracy -- out in the open"; also left unchallenged several McCain falsehoods

››› ››› JULIE MILLICAN

Face the Nation's Bob Schieffer baselessly asserted that the September 22 deal struck by Republican senators and President Bush on the detention, interrogation, and trial of detainees "shows how we do things in a democracy -- out in the open, and in accordance with the law, even when dealing with the worst of the worst." In fact, the details of the agreement are largely unknown. Schieffer also allowed Sen. John McCain to suggest that Democrats are the reason, in Schieffer's words, that Congress "can't seem to get anything done," even though Republicans control both houses of Congress and the presidency.

On the September 24 edition of CBS' Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer baselessly asserted that the September 22 deal struck by Republican senators and President Bush on the detention, interrogation, and trial of detainees "shows how we do things in a democracy -- out in the open and in accordance with the law, even when dealing with the worst of the worst." In fact, far from being "out in the open," the details of the agreement are largely unknown. As The New York Times reported on September 23, "[t]he biggest outstanding question [surrounding the agreement] was how the White House would define what interrogation techniques are banned under the bill."

Additionally, during an interview with Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), a leader in the negotiation, Schieffer afforded McCain the opportunity to suggest, unchallenged, that Democrats are the reason, in Schieffer's words, that Congress "can't seem to get anything done," even though Republicans control both houses of Congress and the presidency. McCain asserted that Congress needed "less partisanship" in order to accomplish its goals, and pointed to Democrats cheering Bush's acknowledgement in the 2005 State of the Union Address that Congress had been unable to reform Social Security. Schieffer also left unchallenged McCain's assertion that Republicans "deserve re-election" because of, among other things, "[l]ower taxes"; Schieffer did not mention McCain's inconsistency on the issue, first voting against Bush's 2001 tax cuts before coming out in favor of their extension in 2006. Schieffer also left unchallenged McCain's false claim that Bush has never said that the Iraq war has made the United States safer from threats of terrorism. In fact, as recently as September 11, Bush declared "The world is safer because Saddam Hussein is no longer in power."

Despite Schieffer's assertion that the proposed detainee plan "shows how we do things in a democracy -- out in the open and in accordance with the law," the details of the plan are vague and largely undefined, as The New York Times noted on September 23:

The biggest outstanding question was how the White House would define what interrogation techniques are banned under the bill.

The proposed legislation outlaws under the War Crimes Act "grave breaches" of the Geneva Conventions, including specific crimes such as murder, torture and rape, but also broad descriptions that might encompass a variety of crimes: maiming, extreme physical pain, trying to cause physical harm, and serious mental harm.

But the law leaves to the White House to say by executive order whether any techniques that do not rise to the level of grave breaches, but are still objectionable, would also be prohibited.

The executive order is to be published in the Federal Register, where it would be subject to review by Congress. The White House had resisted this proposal, but Senate Republicans insisted on it.

The White House said Friday that it had not yet begun to talk about what techniques the order would include.

Indeed, the proposed Senate bill states that the president has the authority to "interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions," as well as to define "violations of treaty obligations which are not grave breaches":

(3) INTERPRETATION BY THE PRESIDENT- (A) As provided by the Constitution and by this section, the President has the authority for the United States to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions and to promulgate higher standards and administrative regulations for violations of treaty obligations which are not grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions.

The Senate bill stipulates that the White House's interpretation of the law is to be published in the Federal Register for review by Congress, but, as proposed, the bill does not give any time frame in which the president must make available his interpretations of which techniques may constitute a "grave breach." Moreover, according to Rep. Jane Harman (D-CA), ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, it is up to Congress to actually provide oversight. As the Times reported, Harman "said the key would be whether Congress exercised that oversight," and "[t]o do so ... the Intelligence Committees must be told what techniques the president intends to use." Harman asserted: "If Congress does not demand this information, we will be giving the president another blank check to violate the law."

Contrary to Scheiffer's suggestion that the negotiations were "out in the open," producing a clear result, even McCain, one of the lead negotiators, would not say definitively what conduct would be prohibited under the agreement. He told Schieffer and Washington Post national political editor John Harris that it "could mean that waterboarding and other extreme measures such as extreme deprivation -- sleep deprivation, hypothermia, and others" are banned, but did not say that it did mean such interrogation techniques would be prohibited.

From the September 24 edition of CBS' Face the Nation:

SCHIEFFER: Well, there's another part to this of course, and that is that the president has been saying, and other members of this administration have been saying that Iraq has made us safer, not weaker, and this is the central point in the war on terror. What do you make of that, that the president seems to be saying exactly the opposite of what his own intelligence agencies concluded?

McCAIN: I can't speak for the president, but I -- I haven't seen him say that it's -- that it's safer. I think he has laid out recently a pretty cogent argument why we must, quote -- I hate to use the phrase -- "stay the course," but I would rather use "prevail" in Iraq, bring about a democracy, and a free society. The best way to combat terrorism, and the recruitment of these young people who are willing to sacrifice their own lives in order to take others, is an opportunity, is a free and open society. And the longer that there are these conditions that prevail, the more likely they are to have more recruits.

[...]

HARRIS: Right. And when you do that --

McCAIN: Mm-hmm.

HARRIS: -- issues that are important to you -- immigration reform -- Congress did nothing. Lobby reform in the wake of Abramoff -- token measures; pork barrel spending -- high as ever. What is the case that you make to those Republican audiences that the record of this Congress deserves re-election?

McCAIN: Well, the war on terror, obviously, and the war in Iraq, are the number one issues. Lower taxes is obviously a part of it. A good economy. We do have a good economy, a good, strong, healthy economy, which is important to the American people. I believe that the administration and Congress should get credit for that. Of course I wish we would move forward with an agreement on immigration. We can. We can decide that we will do everything necessary to fix our border and provide border security and at the meantime, move forward while we made that commitment to addressing the other aspects of the issue.

[...]

SCHIEFFER: What is wrong with the Congress? It can't seem to get anything done, Senator McCain.

McCAIN: I think we need to have a little less partisanship and join together on issues that are of importance. I remember when the president -- State of the Union message -- said, "I regret we're unable to reform Social Security." the Democrats cheered. In 1984, when I first came, Ronald Reagan, [former Democratic House Speaker Thomas P.] "Tip" O'Neill stood together and said, "We're going to fix Social Security." We -- we -- we better, I think, lower the rhetoric a little bit and work together a little more maintaining our philosophical differences.

[...]

SCHIEFFER: With every appearance, the Iranian president reminds us that in a movie about Hitler, he would be the perfect Mini Me for the Nazi dictator, and I doubt there is much of a market these days for Nazism, no matter how much some people resent the United States. And speaking of the movies, the more you hear Chavez, the more you realize this guy wouldn't be a credible villain in a Batman flick. Sure, we have to keep an eye on them, but the way to hurt their cause is to keep encouraging them to show the world how they do things, and let the world compare it to our way.

That's why it was so important that while they were blowing off, Senator McCain and the White House came together on a plan that ensures America will abide by the Geneva Conventions in dealing with enemy prisoners. It is not a perfect plan, to be sure, but it shows how we do things in a democracy -- out in the open and in accordance with the law, even when dealing with the worst of the worst.

We'll never win a battle for hearts and minds by preaching. We do it by showing who we are and inviting the other side to do the same.

Posted In
Justice & Civil Liberties, Detention, Interrogation
Network/Outlet
CBS
Person
Bob Schieffer
Show/Publication
Face the Nation
Stories/Interests
John McCain, 2008 Elections
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