Graham urges House to ban release of detainee photos

McClatchy NewspapersJune 18, 2009 

WASHINGTON — Sen. Lindsey Graham urged the House on Thursday to follow the Senate in passing his bill prohibiting the release of classified photos showing abuse and humiliation of terror suspects held by the United States.

The Senate unanimously approved the Graham measure, co-sponsored by Independent Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut, late Wednesday after a weeklong impasse that compelled President Barack Obama's personal intervention.

"They're embarrassing, they're inappropriate and they would be used by our enemies to put our troops in jeopardy," Graham, a South Carolina Republican, said of the photos.

Graham said the photos were similar to the scandalous photos of Iraqi detainees at the Abu Ghraib prison, which caused an international uproar when they were released in 2004.

Graham said he hadn't seen the controversial photos in several years, but he planned to view them again in the next week or two with Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, who he said had expressed an interest in seeing them.

"Passing this bill is essential to protecting our fighting men and women," Graham and Lieberman said Thursday in a joint statement. "Each one of these photos would be tantamount to a death sentence to those serving our nation in the most dangerous and difficult spots."

Obama initially supported releasing the photos — most of which Graham said depict detainees being held at U.S. prisons in Afghanistan — but changed course last month.

The Senate passed the Graham-Lieberman legislation banning the photos' release as a stand-alone bill after Rahm Emanuel, White House chief of staff, called Graham earlier Wednesday and asked him to stop blocking a broader war spending measure.

Graham had vowed to filibuster that $106 million supplemental appropriations bill for Iraq and Afghanistan and hold up other Senate bills after the House Democratic leadership removed from it a Graham-Lieberman amendment barring release of the detainee photos.

The Graham-Lieberman amendment and a separate provision providing $1 billion to the auto industry had delayed passage of the war spending bill for days.

"Rahm Emanuel called me yesterday about noon," Graham said Thursday in an interview. "He said the president would do whatever is required to prevent these photos from being released. He said, 'Lindsey, the president has told me to tell you that these photos will never see the light of day, but he prefers that Congress deal with this.' "

Graham said Obama promised to issue an executive order if necessary to ensure the controversial photos weren't released.

Graham and Lieberman agreed to remove the photo-release ban from the war-spending bill and to offer it as free-standing legislation, which the Senate approved by voice vote Wednesday evening.

Free of the detainee-photo issue, the Senate on Thursday passed the war spending bill by a 91-5 vote.

Graham voted for the $106 million measure, while Sen. Jim DeMint voted against it.

DeMint's aides said he opposed the bill because it contains "a 108 billion IMF bailout" and the $1 billion to help automakers.

The measure provides only $5 billion in direct funding to the IMF, as part of a credit line that could go higher.

DeMint's amendment to strip the IMF funding was defeated in the Senate last month by a 64-30 vote.

The Graham-Lieberman bill prohibits the release of the detainee photos for three years, with the defense secretary or the president authorized to extend the ban an additional three years.

Graham said final passage of legislation banning the photos' release would be better than an executive order.

"An executive order has less standing than a congressional enactment, in my view," Graham said. "Courts will look at a bill passed by Congress and signed by the president as a stronger statement than an executive order. That way you get two branches of government saying the same thing."

Graham said Speaker Nancy Pelosi must overcome resistance from Rep. Barney Frank and other Democrats in order for his measure to gain House passage.

"I just can't imagine our Congress won't act give the information we have received from our military commanders about the dangers to our troops in the field if these photos are released," Graham said.

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