Graham, Seeking Assurances on Detainee Photos, Threatens Senate Shutdown

Posted June 16, 2009 at 4:47pm

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) vowed Tuesday to make good on his threat to slow down a supplemental war spending bill as well as block other Senate action until he gets assurances that photos of detainee abuse will never be released.

Last week, President Barack Obama promised to use all legal means necessary to prohibit the photos from being made public, and a federal appeals court issued a stay on an April ruling that would have forced the Pentagon to hand over pictures of abusive treatment at the hands of U.S. soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan to the American Civil Liberties Union.

But neither of those recent developments has given Graham enough confidence that the photos will remain secret. (Several similar photos of detainee abuse were released in 2004 during a scandal over the treatment of prisoners at Iraq’s Abu Ghraib prison.)

“We’re not going to go back to business as usual until I’m certain there’s a game plan,— Graham said. Graham and Sen. Joe Lieberman (ID-Conn.) had attached language to the supplemental prohibiting the pictures’ release, but it was struck in conference with the House.

Graham said he wants Obama to explicitly declare that he will issue an executive order to keep the pictures secret before the U.S. Supreme Court can rule on the issue. Last week’s letter from the president “was reassuring in some way, in other ways troubling,— Graham explained. “The letter that he sent to the [supplemental] conferees is not enough.—

Graham said the Obama administration is engaged in a “high-risk strategy— if it is waiting for the high court to take its side and prevent the photos’ release.

“You can’t overturn a court decision with an executive order,— he said.

But Graham also said he believes the issue must be dealt with by Congress, and he has asked Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to schedule a stand-alone vote on the Lieberman-Graham measure before he will lift his holds on nominations and bills.

Lieberman had also threatened to hold up Senate business if the issue was not resolved, but his spokesman Marshall Wittmann said Tuesday that he was planning to vote for the supplemental and was not planning on blocking other bills or nominations. However, Lieberman is still pressing Reid for a vote on the stand-alone bill, Wittmann said.

Reid said he would not consider scheduling a vote on the Lieberman-Graham bill until after the supplemental passes.

“I have no problem [voting on the bill] at a subsequent time, but there’s no quid pro quo here,— Reid said. “I’m not going to say, Well, fine, I’ll do that if you vote for the bill.’ The bill’s there. People should vote for the bill because it’s the right thing to do.—

Reid pointed to Obama’s letter and the recent court stay as evidence that there was no rush to schedule Senate action.

In the House, meanwhile, Rep. Mike Conaway (R-Texas) has introduced an identical bill in an attempt to force the hand of House Democratic leaders, who demanded the detainee photo language be stripped from the supplemental to satisfy liberal Members of their caucus. House leaders argued they could not get the votes for the supplemental on the floor if the photo provision was included.

Conaway may push a discharge petition to get House leaders to take up any Senate-passed bill, spokeswoman Anna Harris said. Conaway would need 218 signatures on his petition to force the House to act, but Harris said he hoped that wouldn’t be necessary.

“Hopefully, Democrats will work with us and give us an up or down vote,— she said.