The Bush Administration suffered a crushing defeat this week
… according to the mainstream media. Front pages across the
nation reported that the president "
bowed" to the wishes of the Supreme Court and "
reversed" his long-standing policy for handling military
detainees, including those held in Guantanamo.
Television commentator Bill Press described this "new policy" as a
"stunning reversal," while the New York Times insisted it was "a
victory for those within the administration who argued that the
United States' refusal to extend Geneva protections to Qaeda
prisoners was harming the country's standing abroad."
The media reports rely on a July 7 issued by Deputy Defense Secretary Gordon England in
response to the recent Supreme Court's Hamdan decision. In this
case, the high court declared that the military tribunals the
administration wanted to use to try detainees captured during the
war on terror are unlawful and not in compliance with the 1949
But despite the fevered "reports" emanating from the mainstream
pack, England's memo doesn't read like an Administration reversal
of policy. Instead it seems merely to summarize the court's
The two-page memo begins: "The Supreme Court has determined that
Common Article 3 to the Geneva Conventions of 1949 applies as a
matter of law to the conflict with Al Qaeda." England further
notes: "The Court found that the military commissions as
constituted by the Department of Defense are not consistent with
Common Article 3." Common Article 3 requires the humane treatment
In the next paragraph England notes that existing Defense
Department (DoD) practices are already in alignment with the
Hamdan decision. "It is my understanding that,
aside from the military commission procedures, existing DoD orders,
policies, directives, executive orders, and doctrine comply with
the standards of Common Article 3 and, therefore, actions by DoD
personnel that comply with such issuances would comply with the
standards of Common Article 3." Also notable is England's reference
in the memo to a prior presidential directive that "the United
States Armed Forces shall continue to treat detainees
The presidential directive was issued four years ago. So the fact
of the matter is that the Administration has mandated respect for
the standards in Common Article 3 for years. Aside from the
never-implemented tribunal procedures rejected by the court, the
DoD was already operating in full compliance with the Hamdan decision. And yet,
this "stunning reversal" is splashed over the front page of every
newspaper that has an axe to grind with the administration's
policies in the war on terror.
Indeed, nowhere in the DoD memo is there any mention of a new
policy. There is not even any indication that military detainees
will be afforded any different treatment than they have been in the
But these points seem to be lost on the mainstream press.
The Washington Post's contention that "The Pentagon announced
yesterday that it has called on military officials to adhere to the
conventions in dealing with al-Qaeda detainees" ignores the basic
text of the DoD memo. It makes no new announcement, but rather
reiterates already existing policies and encourages DoD personnel
to ensure their continued compliance with these standards.
It might be fairer to say that the July 7 memo represents a
philosophical change in emphasis. Without outlining a new policy
for treating detainees, England did further emphasize compliance
with basic human rights standards. Will this in effect change
procedures? That is a question that has yet to be answered.
In the wake of Hamdan, Congress must provide
the answer. Both chambers are now holding hearings on this subject.
The administration is urging Congress to, in effect, legislatively
ratify its previous position -- an option that the Supreme Court
It's not clear whether Congress will have time to act before its
month-long August recess, but already backers of the administration
policy are agitating for a decisive congressional response. "With
the Hamdan decision, it's now up to Congress
and the President to collaborate, and to create military
commissions for al Qaeda terrorists that are consistent with
American values and in our national security interest. And we will
do that," said Republican Sen. John Conryn of Texas.
"But let me be clear: the American people will not look favorably
on this Congress if it gives al Qaeda terrorists more generous
protections and procedures than criminal defendants in U.S. courts
and our own military personnel."
True … the American people would no doubt cringe at such a
prospect. But would the mainstream press?
Tim Chapman is the
Director of the Center for Media and Public Policy at The Heritage
Foundation and a contributor to Townhall.com's .
First appeared in Human Events Online