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We Defend the Constitution to Protect the Country

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Yesterday retired Lt. Commander Charles Swift, the JAG attorney who won the landmark Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case, endorsed my candidacy for the Presidency. Following his endorsement I delivered the remarks below on defending the Constitution and our moral standing in the world (Video here). I asked my Internet Team to be sure the Huffington Post's readers get to see what I consider to be a very important speech on a crucial subject.

Remarks of Senator Christopher J. Dodd
Fighting Terrorism, Defending the Rule of Law
Iowa City Foreign Relations Council
Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Thank you, Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift, for that introduction and for all you've done. As the Navy JAG officer who helped win one of the most important Supreme Court cases in recent memory, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, you helped prove that the President cannot overturn the rule of law and establish his own system of justice.

I also want to thank you for calling my attention to some wonderful words from George Marshall, architect of the D-Day invasion, and namesake of the Marshall Plan. Here's what he said:

"The United States abides by the laws of war....Wanton killing, torture, cruelty, or the workings of unusual hardship on enemy prisoners or populations is not justified under any circumstances. Likewise respect for the reign of law...is expected to follow the flag wherever it goes."

George Marshall spoke those words in the middle of last century; but they could have been spoken at any time in our history.

Those words sum up a founding insight: that the rule of law extends even to those enemies we most despise; that our Constitution's principles are transcendent; that in America, right makes might.

With the law following our flag, we threw down tyrants and oppressors for two centuries; we rid the world of Nazism and Soviet communism; we proved that great strength can serve great virtue.

America was a light to the world, and our adherence to the rule of law the foundation of our security for the last half of the 20th century.

Today, in the early years of the 21st century, our defining question is a very simple one:

Can we defend America if we fail to defend our Constitution and the rule of law?

That's not a loaded question--there are a good number of Americans who say the answer is Yes.

They don't answer that question lightly. They are well-intentioned. They believe that the terrorist threat we're facing is so vast, so unprecedented, that parts of our Constitution become luxuries and the Geneva Conventions has become, in the words of the former Attorney General, "quaint."

The height of this false dichotomy came on September 28th of last year, the day the United States Senate voted to pass President Bush's Military Commissions Act.

That was the day the U.S. Senate gave into fear. The Senate was frightened out of the rule of law, and into the waiting arms of the rule of men. The United States Senate gave President Bush everything he wanted. It gave him the power to designate any individual an "unlawful enemy combatant," hold him indefinitely, and take away the right to habeas corpus - the 900-year-old right to challenge your detention.

And worst of all, the Military Commissions Act gave President Bush the power to get information out of suspected terrorists--by any means. The power to use evidence gained from torture - which historically has proven to be so unreliable.

I spoke against that disgraceful bill. I voted against the bill. But unfortunately I was in a small minority.

Because of that decision and others like it, America is making itself known to the world not for what we accomplished on the beaches at Normandy; not for what we created with the Marshall Plan; not for the moral authority born at Nuremberg - moral authority that fortified America's leadership and helped create international institutions that served the common good and security of all nations for sixty years, from the United Nations...to NATO...to the IMF.

Rather America is increasingly known today for Abu Ghraib. For Guantanamo.

Put simply, the President's military commissions exist to protect abusive behavior.

The President wants to keep interrogation methods secret--not just from the press, not just from the American public, but from the defendant's own lawyer! When he represented Salim Hamdan before a military commission, Lt. Cmdr. Swift wasn't even allowed to ask his client what had been done to him.

Let me be clear - under very clearly prescribed circumstances, military commissions can be a useful instrument for bringing our enemies to justice. But not under the absurd set of strictures that pass for justice in some circles in the year 2007.

Yet again and again, most recently as last month, President Bush insists: "This government does not torture."

Waterboarding isn't torture? Malcolm Nance is a 26-year expert in intelligence and counter-terrorism, a combat veteran, and former Chief of Training at the US Navy Survival, Evasion, Resistance and Escape School who has trained American soldiers to resist interrogation.

Listen to Malcolm Nance. He writes waterboarding - "does not simulate drowning...The victim is drowning...slow motion suffocation....When done right it is controlled death."

Now, if you'd rather use a euphemism--"enhanced interrogation"--feel free. Feel free to use a bureaucratic term like "extraordinary rendition"--as long as we all know that it means kidnapping the citizens of Western nations and shipping them to the Middle East for outsourced torture. Feel free to talk about "fraternity hazing," like Rush Limbaugh did, or to use a favorite term of Vice President Cheney's, "a dunk in the water"--just as long as everyone understands that you're talking about a technique invented by the Spanish Inquisition and perfected by the Khmer Rouge.

That, my friends, is waterboarding. It is torture. This Administration thinks it is legal. Mine will not - because there is no place for it in our America. We are better than this.

Thus, my disappointment in the man who President Bush has picked to be our nation's chief law enforcement officer. As Judge Mukasey said when he came before the Senate, "If waterboarding is torture, torture is not constitutional." It was almost as if Judge Mukasey was pleading the fifth.

Even more importantly, Judge Mukasey was asked if the President can openly break the law? Can he order warrantless wiretapping, ignore the will of Congress, and then hide behind powers he claims to find in the Constitution?

Judge Mukasey's response: The President has "the authority to defend the country" outside of a federal statute. In one swoop, Judge Mukasey conceded to the President nearly unlimited power, as long as it serves the purpose of "defending the country."

I'm not exaggerating when I say we have a choice in this country, between the rule of law and the rule of men. Once we endorse this culture of lawbreaking at the highest levels, it becomes contagious at all levels.

The President's favored individuals, and his favored corporations, get to break the law, too. In the last few years, President Bush asked America's biggest telecom companies to spy on their own customers. They complied willingly; they handed over your private information to the Administration. Now President Bush is asking Congress to give those companies immunity for everything they've done--to declare their lawbreaking legal.

Congress wanted to know--reasonably enough--exactly what actions it would be cleaning up. And the President's answer: "I can't tell you. It's a secret."

So the Congress and the people are kept in the dark, replacing General Marshall's eloquent words with a simpler, darker motto: "Just trust me. I know what is best."

That is not the America I grew up in - nor is the America we want in the 21st century. Ours is not a country born of fear. Ensuring it does not become so is why I am running for President.

That is why I have pledged to do everything in my power to prevent this immunity bill from becoming law. If the retroactive immunity clause is not stricken from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, I will filibuster it on the floor of the United States Senate.

President Bush believes he needs all this to keep us secure. I couldn't disagree more. Our courts have conducted more than one hundred terrorism trials since 9/11. They have done this without compromising the intelligence sources that keep us safe.

Consider the trial of Zaccarias Moussaoui. Lt. Cmdr. Swift is especially convincing on this point. President Bush's enablers, he writes, have "cited the prosecution of Zaccarias Moussaoui as an example of why the federal justice system does not work."

Lt. Cmdr. Swift writes, "I completely disagree. In fact, Moussaoui is the perfect victory. Our system is shown to be fair. The court...struck a balance that protects both our values and our security. We didn't lose anything. Moussaoui ultimately showed himself to be a fool--deranged, a joke, hardly someone that we'd think of as a great Middle East martyr. Ultimately he's imprisoned in a place where his name will be forgotten forever. How is that not a great victory?"

Compare that case to the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who organized the attacks of 9/11. He was held in a secret prison, where he claims he was tortured severely. Whether he is lying or not, by our actions we have allowed Khalid Mohammed to claim the moral high ground. Khalid Mohammed plays martyr to a world that is inclined to believe it.

Torture does not work.

Listen to the concerns of Lt. Gen. John Kimmons, the Army's Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence, said: "No good intelligence is going to come from abusive practices." This is not some newly discovered conclusion - we have known this for years.

What happened in 2002? That was the year a man named Ibn al-Sheikh al-Libi, an al-Qaeda paramilitary trainer, was tortured at our behest in Egypt. He confessed that Saddam Hussein trained al-Qaeda members in the use of weapons of mass destruction. That so-called confession found its way into a speech that President Bush gave in October 2002, as part of his case to invade Iraq.

Remember the President's words: "Iraq has trained al-Qaeda members in bomb making and poisons and gases." In Colin Powell's speech to the Security Council justifying war, al-Libi's claim was the centerpiece.

It was also totally false.

Both the CIA and the Defense Intelligence Agency have found that it was a false confession elicited by torture.

What followed in Iraq has been a failure and a tragedy.

Torture makes us less secure - leading us to act on false information.

Torture puts our troops in danger--subjecting them to similar treatment if captured.

John McCain, who experienced torture firsthand, has made this point more movingly than anyone.

Torture excels at breeding terrorists, men who will seek vengeance on us for the rest of their lives, along with their families, and their tribes.

Torture doesn't stop terrorists - it makes them.

Contrast today's world with World War Two and the moral standing we earned in its wake. When the war was over at last, we had in our power the leaders of a monstrous regime, which had nearly conquered the world and tried to exterminate the Jewish people. Rather than summary execution as Winston Churchill and the Soviet Union wanted, America argued to put them on trial, at Nuremberg.

For America, there were no exceptions to the rule of law.

We insisted that even these, some of the worst violators of human rights in history, would have an attorney, a judge and a trial. My father was an American prosecutor at Nuremberg.

Justice Robert Jackson captured the essence of Nuremberg in one sentence in his opening statement: "That four great nations, flushed with victory and stung with injury, stay the hand of vengeance and voluntarily submit their captive enemies to the judgment of the law is one of the most significant tributes that Power has ever paid to Reason."

More than ever, that tribute is due today. All we need is leadership and the strength to keep faith with our values.

We are so fortunate in America that so many men and women in our armed forces have that strength. William Quinn was an Army interrogator in Iraq in 2005. He sat across the table from insurgents who built the roadside bombs that killed his comrades, and members of al-Qaeda dedicated to war against America.

William Quinn wrote that every instinct in his body was telling him to throw men like that up against the wall and break their noses. But he mastered those instincts and learned, he said, "never to dehumanize my enemy."

Getting this right begins with Presidential leadership that understands how to keep America safe and secure. After 9/11, President Bush asked the American people not to sacrifice or band together but to "go shopping." Today in Iowa City, I am asking the American people something different.

I am asking you not to just trust me - but more importantly, to also trust yourselves.

Not simply to trust your government but to trust the values that government kept us safe with for more than two centuries. Values that steeled America through world wars and cold wars every bit as great as those we face today.

We will confront our enemies with everything we have: a military that is unmatched; intelligence services that are modernized and international alliances that meet the challenges of the 21st century. We will use tough, smart interrogation that extracts the truth. And we will use our moral example.

We Americans understand it is not always the example of our force that keeps us safe - but rather the force of our example. We understand that our leaders do not swear to support and defend the Constitution or protect the country - that is a false choice.

Rather, we defend the Constitution--and the values it expresses--precisely to protect the country. America's moral authority isn't incidental to our security - it's the very foundation. Restoring our belief in this most fundamental of American principles is the challenge we face today.

And so, I ask Iowa today - can we?

The whole world is waiting for our answer.

Learn more at ChrisDodd.com.

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