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Powell Says Bush's Tribunal Plan Would Backfire

President Bush leaves the Capitol, where he spoke to House Republicans about expanding the executive branch's power.
Chip Somodevilla
/
Getty Images
President Bush leaves the Capitol, where he spoke to House Republicans about expanding the executive branch's power.

President Bush's proposed rules for trying terrorism suspects at Guantanamo Bay ran into fresh resistance today from his former secretary of state, retired Gen. Colin Powell. Powell says the president's plan would backfire on American troops abroad, and that the world was beginning to question the moral basis for the U.S. war on terrorism.

Powell has been conspicuous by his silence since leaving the Bush administration at the end of 2004. But that silence ended Thursday with the release of a letter written to Sen. John McCain (R-AZ), who has been struggling with the White House over the handling of detainees suspected of terrorism.

Discussing what he sees as the administration's revision of the Geneva Convention, Powell wrote that, "The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism."

Using a new interpretation of the Convention's Common Article 3, Powell later says, "would add to those doubts. Furthermore, it would put our own troops at risk."

The portion of Article 3 the White House has said it considers too vague forbids what is termed as "inhuman and degrading treatment of prisoners."

The letter, which the White House did not see in advance, landed like a bombshell in the midst of a day when the president had expected to advance his cause on Capitol Hill. President Bush visited House Republicans, who have offered support for his plan.

White House Press Secretary Tony Snow said that President Bush doesn't want to change the meaning of Article 3, but only to define it more clearly, so U.S. personnel know exactly what they can do. That way, he said, they won't risk facing charges in international courts.

As for Powell's letter, Snow said that the former secretary of State was merely confused about the Bush administration's goals. Later, Snow said he should not have said Powell was confused. But he maintained that he thinks Powell's interpretation is wrong.

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You're most likely to find NPR's Don Gonyea on the road, in some battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, at a campaign rally, or at their kitchen tables to tell him what's on their minds. Through countless such conversations over the course of the year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. Gonyea is NPR's National Political Correspondent, a position he has held since 2010. His reports can be heard on all NPR News programs and at NPR.org. To hear his sound-rich stories is akin to riding in the passenger seat of his rental car, traveling through Iowa or South Carolina or Michigan or wherever, right along with him.