Time’s up: Assessing Dole and Burr’s leadership

by staff

The charade seems to be drawing to a close.

As has now been well publicized around the world, the US Senate voted overwhelmingly on Nov. 15 to set the year 2006 ‘“as a period of significant transition to full Iraqi sovereignty, with Iraq security forces taking the lead for the security of a free and sovereign Iraq, thereby creating the conditions for the phased redeployment of forces from Iraq.’”

At least one Democratic leader was heard to say that the measure constituted a vote of no confidence on Bush’s presidency. We fervently hope the Senate will keep its nerve in ’06, and maintain pressure on the executive branch to end this wretched war.

In the meantime, the war has created several messes, and it’s time for the US government to put its house in order. To run down the list quickly, we have revelations by the Washington Post and Human Rights Watch of secret detention facilities in Eastern Europe; reports that Vice President Dick Cheney is lobbying Congress against an amendment by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) to prohibit torture; acknowledgment by Iraqi Prime Minister Ibrahim Jafari that 173 Iraqi prisoners held by the US-supported government have been subjected to malnourishment and possibly torture; and the disclosure that the US military used white phosphorous, an incendiary substance that can eat through human skin, in attacks against insurgents last year.

A statement by Human Rights Watch on the first matter spells out the gravity of the situation: ‘“Further investigation is needed to determine the possible involvement of Poland and Romania in the extremely serious activities described in the Washington Post article. Arbitrary incommunicado detention is illegal under international law. It often acts as a foundation for torture and mistreatment of detainees.’”

It’s time for the legislative branch of our government ‘— remember them? ‘— to step up to the plate. Let’s take a look at the records of the two Republican senators from North Carolina on these issues.

First off, Sen. Elizabeth Dole deserves commendation for voting with the majority to start withdrawing from Iraq next year. The freshman senator from Winston-Salem, Richard Burr, voted against the resolution, suggesting that along with 18 of his colleagues, he remains in a state of deep denial.

Dole and Burr both voted against an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act by Sen. Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) to allow detainees at Guantánamo Bay access to the courts to determine whether their status as enemy combatants is supported by evidence. Both voted in favor of a substitute amendment by Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-SC) to allow enemy combatants to challenge convictions but not to challenge their detention.

That’s hardly adequate.

The Tar Heel senators also voted for a watered-down amendment that requires the director of intelligence to submit classified reports to Congress on detention facilities run by foreign contractors, including information about the number of detainees held and a description of interrogation techniques used. Both also voted for the McCain amendment that states that no detainee at a US military facility can be subjected to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment. That’s the one the VP is so furiously trying to thwart.

Taken together, it would be hard to characterize Dole and Burr’s legislative footprint as path-breaking, but at least it’s a start.