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Thursday, July 31, 2008

Empty Chatter From the House Armed Services Committee

What do you get when you mix a disenchanted military prosecutor, a prominent law professor, and a pair of lawyers with opposite viewpoints? Throw in a few obstinate, metaphor-loving Republicans and you’ve got just another day at the House Armed Services Committee. The topic yesterday was the Supreme Court’s Boumediene v. Bush decision and the future of Guantanamo Bay from a “non-governmental perspective.” Giving their testimony were lawyers Stephen Oleskey (who represents Gitmo detainees) and Richard Klingler (who wants to take the matter out of the courts’ hands and see legislation written), Georgetown prof Neal Katyal, and former Chief Prosecutor for the U.S. Air Force Morris Davis. But with the help of ranking member Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), and a couple of boorish Republican members, the hearing often devolved into a symphony of rhetoric.

Rep. Hunter led the way in this regard, trumpeting the need for Gitmo legislation and denouncing the Boumediene decision. He took some jabs at potential future Gitmo court decisions as well, calling it “lawfare over warfare.” That’s odd, because we call that letting the judiciary do its job.

The four witnesses provided answers that were equally entertaining, but often just as muddled. Oleskey stood up the strongest to the questioning, providing careful reasoning against Gitmo legislation and shooting down the backwards logic that came his way. By matter of contrast, Klingler reeled off rhetoric like the best of them. The lawyer certainly didn’t acquit himself well (pun intended) in his claim that legislation should preempt courts from doing their job—his testimony was low on logic and clouded with rhetoric.

It was Davis, however, that made the biggest impact at the hearing. While the military man is anything but a liberal sympathizer (he said the Supreme Court was “meddling” in its review of the 2006 Military Commission Act), he drew on his experience in Guantanamo to articulate just how bad it was there. The supposed “military justice” at Gitmo was, he said, “neither military nor justice.” It was a situation that makes Davis thankful he is now a former military man. “I’m glad my uniform is hanging in my closet,” he said.

Even this kind of frank testimony from an American soldier wouldn’t stop the oratorical fireworks from continuing, this time from Rep. Phil Gingrey (R-GA). Rep. Gingrey—who called himself a “Georgia peach” on “The Colbert Report” —viciously accused the Supreme Court of affording terrorists with the rights of the Constitution, punctuating his rant with a spiteful rhetorical question, “How far will the liberal elite go?” Well, clearly far enough to defend basic constitutional values.

Rep. Hunter tried to delve deeper into the rights-for-the-terrorists theme by questioning each panel member about whether or not the U.S. military would be required to read the Miranda rights to prevent coerced statements from being obtained. It was yet another leading question on this issue, illustrating the typical stubbornness that has pervaded the “right” side of the aisle.

As the hearing wore on, however, Rep. Hunter had many in the audience wishing that he would invoke the right to remain silent.

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