Powell Says Bush's Tribunal Plan Would Backfire

President Bush leaves the Capitol, where he spoke to House Republicans.

President Bush leaves the Capitol, where he spoke to House Republicans about expanding the executive branch's power. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President Bush's proposed rules for trying terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay ran into fresh resistance today from his former secretary of state, retired Gen. Colin Powell. Powell says the president's plan would backfire on American troops abroad, and that the world was beginning to question the moral basis for the U.S. war on terrorism.

Powell has been conspicuous by his silence since leaving the Bush administration at the end of 2004. But that silence ended Thursday with the release of a letter written to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who has been struggling with the White House over the handling of detainees suspected of terrorism.

Discussing what he sees as the administration's revision of the Geneva Convention, Powell wrote that, "The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism."

Using a new interpretation of the Convention's Common Article 3, Powell later says, "would add to those doubts. Furthermore, it would put our own troops at risk."

The portion of Article 3 the White House has said it considers too vague forbids what is termed as "inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners."

The letter, which the White House did not see in advance, landed like a bombshell in the midst of a day when the president had expected to advance his cause on Capitol Hill. President Bush visited House Republicans, who have offered support for his plan.

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said that President Bush doesn't want to change the meaning of Article 3, but only to define it more clearly, so U.S. personnel know exactly what they can do. That way, he said, they won't risk facing charges in international courts.

As for Powell's letter, Snow said that the former secretary of State was merely confused about the Bush administration's goals. Later, Snow said he should not have said Powell was confused. But he maintained that he thinks Powell's interpretation is wrong.

Powell, Rice Letters on Detainee Legislation

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, left, and her predecessor, Colin Powell.

Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, left, and her predecessor, Colin Powell, are at odds over detainee legislation. Getty Images hide caption

itoggle caption Getty Images

Following are letters by former Secretary of State Colin Powell and current Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice on proposed legislation defining acceptable interrogation and prosecution procedures for terrorism suspects held outside of the regular U.S. legal system. The letters were released Thursday.

Powell's letter:

Dear Senator McCain:

I just returned to town and learned about the debate taking place in Congress to redefine Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention. I do not support such a step and believe it would be inconsistent with the McCain amendment on torture which I supported last year.

I have read the powerful and eloquent letter sent to you by one (of) my distinguished predecessors as Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, General Jack Vessey. I fully endorse in tone and tint his powerful argument. The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism. To redefine Common Article 3 would add to those doubts. Furthermore, it would put our own troops at risk.

I am as familiar with "The Armed Forces Officer" as is Jack Vessey. It was written after all the horrors World War II and General George C. Marshall, then Secretary of Defense, used it to tell the world and to remind our soldiers of our moral obligations with respect to those in our custody.

Sincerely,

Colin L. Powell

                                *   *   *

Rice's letter:

Dear Mr. Chairman (John Warner):

Yesterday we discussed how the Department of State viewed the international legal obligations that flow from Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, in comparison with other relevant legal standards in U.S. law.

Our international partners expect that we will undertake good faith interpretations of the Conventions' text, consistent with their object and purpose. In a case where the treaty's terms are inherently vague, it is appropriate for a state to look to its own legal framework, precedents, concepts and norms in interpreting these terms and carrying out its international obligations. Such practice in the application of a treaty is an accepted reference point in international law. The proposed legislation would strengthen U.S. adherence to Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions because it would add meaningful definition and clarification to vague terms in the treaties.

In the department's view, there is not, and should not be, any inconsistency with respect to the substantive behavior that is prohibited in paragraphs (a) and (c) of Section 1 of Common Article 3 and the behavior that is prohibited as "cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment," as that phrase is defined in the U.S. reservation to the Convention Against Torture. That substantive standard was also utilized by Congress in the Detainee Treatment Act. Thus it is a reasonable, good faith interpretation of Common Article 3 to state, as the proposed legislation does, that the prohibitions found in the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 fully satisfy the obligations of the United States with respect to the standards for detention and treatment established in those paragraphs of Common Article 3.

The Department of State supports this legislation and we believe it will help demonstrate to our international partners that we are committed to compliance with Common Article 3.

Sincerely,

Condoleezza Rice

Source: The Associated Press

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