Gen. Vessey Backs McCain on Detainee Rules

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Sen. John McCain (R-AZ) is a key Senate leader opposing President Bush's proposed guidelines on the treatment and questioning of detainees suspected of terrorist activities. Gen. John Vessey (ret.), former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote to McCain to support his resistance to the president's policies. Vessey talks with Alex Chadwick about the letter.


The letter to Senator McCain from former Secretary of State Powell is quite brief. Mostly he says he endorses another letter opposing the administration's proposals from one of General Powell's predecessors as the nation's top military officer. The author of that letter, also written to Senator McCain, is retired Army General John Vessey, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff more than 20 years ago. He is with us by phone from his home in Minnesota.

General Vessey, why did you write to Senator McCain earlier this week?

General JOHN VESSEY, JR. (U.S. Army Retired, Former Chairman, Joint Chiefs of Staff): Well, last year there was some question about whether or not some degree of torture could be used by the United States in dealing with interrogations, and at that time I talked to Senator McCain and Senator Warner and urged that we not do that because it was contrary to past practices of the United States and the traditions of our armed forces.

I understand the president's concern about the vagueness of Article 3, and he was particularly referring to Section C, where it says outrages upon personal dignity and particular humiliating and degrading treatment, that - that that's vague, and he was hoping to clarify that. I don't know whether it needs clarifying or not.

CHADWICK: You note in your letter that you continue to hear that we face a different enemy, a different enemy, but then you go on to say you're not so sure that things are different now.

Gen. VESSEY, JR.: Well, what's not different is that we see inhumanity and cruelty at all times, but we certainly see it in a time of war, and in this book that I cited - which in my letter, which was handed out to every officer in the armed forces in 1950…

CHADWICK: This is by General George Marshall, perhaps the greatest…

Gen. VESSEY, JR.: Well, he was the secretary of defense at the time.

CHADWICK: The kind of pre-eminent American military leader of the 20th century writes this book called The Armed Forces Officer, and every officer in the armed forces get it.

Gen. VESSEY, JR.: Yes. In my letter it says, respect for the reign of law. And then in the book the following term is italicized. It says, as that term is understood in the United States, is expected to follow the flag wherever it goes. And it seems to me that that clarifies the issue.

CHADWICK: Respect for the reign of law as it is understood in the United States.

Gen. VESSEY, JR.: That's right, for us Americans.

CHADWICK: Extend that same understanding to those who…

Gen. VESSEY, JR.: To our conduct in dealing with others.

CHADWICK: General John Vessey, former chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and author of a letter this week to Senator McCain and the Senate Armed Services Committee. General Vessey, thank you.

Gen. VESSEY, JR.: Thank you.

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