POLITICS

Lieberman, Graham Threaten To Shut Down Senate Over Detainee Photos

07/10/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Sens. Joseph Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) lambasted transparency advocates at a press conference Tuesday, when they renewed their promise to bring Senate business to a halt until their bill blocking the release of detainee photographs becomes law.

"We're not going to do any more business in the Senate," Graham said, his face flushed red. "Nothing's going forward until we get this right."

The duo's bill, which would allow the Pentagon to exempt Bush-era photos from the Freedom of Information Act, was stripped from the conference version of the war supplemental Monday night. In anticipation of trouble, Lieberman and Graham had already inserted the bill into the tobacco-regulatory legislation currently on the floor of the Senate.

By turns sober and furious, the two senators vowed again Tuesday to vote against -- and, if possible, filibuster -- the troop-funding bill and all other legislation until they get their way. They equated the weapons supplied by the war supplemental spending bill with detainee photos that they said would serve as a recruiting tool for al-Qaida and a weapon against U.S. troops.

"If these photos see the light of day, it will be a death sentence to some serving abroad," Graham said. The removal of the photo amendment, he said, "is one of the most outrageous and irresponsible acts in the history of the Congress." He said the initial response to the Abu Ghraib scandal was necessary and the punishments meted out were appropriate.

Lieberman, for his part, dismissed release of the photos as "sheer voyeurism" and "disclosure without a purpose." The Detainee Treatment Act and the Military Commissions Act, Lieberman said, are ample enough evidence that the system has been sufficiently reformed.

"Transparency in government is an American value, but it is not without limits, no more than any of the values embraced in our Constitution," Lieberman said. "The transparency in this case is needless and dangerous transparency."

Graham said there is consensus among many senators, military officials and diplomats about the need to pass the bill. Even the White House is in support, he said, and helped them draft the bill, remaining supportive of it in conference. Both senators dismissed House Democrats' concerns about the bill as "naive" opinions held by a "fringe minority."

"Is the ACLU now in charge of the House of Representatives?" Graham asked.

Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is "very concerned" by the bill's stalling, Graham said. American embassies, he said, have been fortifying their defenses in anticipation of the photos' release, and Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has warned that "Baghdad will burn."

Key House Democrats said Monday they would want hearings on the photos bill before they even consider voting it into law, but Lieberman and Graham said that wasn't going to happen. The bill is explicitly designed to apply retroactively to the ACLU's victorious federal court case compelling release of the photos, which the Obama administration has appealed.

Even in the unlikely event that the government wins that appeal, however, Lieberman and Graham said they will still fight to exempt detainee photos from FOIA.

"This is the first shot in a long war," Graham said. "There are other lawsuits pending out there that want to compromise our national security in the name of freedom of information and transparency. There's more to come. Let us fight this battle today. Let us win the day so we don't have to fight it tomorrow."

UPDATE: Media Matters notes that a mere two years ago, Sen. Lieberman vehemently condemned any political delay of funding for the troops:

"We all know what our most important responsibility is. Our forces in Iraq and Afghanistan are looking to us. They need the funding that only we in Congress can provide them. The money is running out.

I understand that many in this chamber saw the supplemental appropriations bill as an opportunity to force a withdrawal of our troops from Iraq, and that many of us argued vigorously against the amendments that attempted to do that. Each side has now had an opportunity to make its case, and the result is clear: there are not enough votes in Congress to enact a mandatory date for withdrawal of American forces from Iraq. The time for having debates and sending messages on this troop funding bill should be over.

It is time to get our troops the equipment, the training, the supplies they need-and without delay.

We in this chamber have a responsibility to make certain that-no matter what our disagreements and differences here in Washington-our men and women in uniform in Iraq and Afghanistan are not caught in the political crossfire." [Lieberman.senate.gov, 5/10/07; emphasis added]

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