30 January 2002
Text: Senator Says U.S. Should Question al-Qaida and Taliban Captives
(Cites need to prevent further terrorist attacks) (980)
Senator Arlen Specter (Republican of Pennsylvania) says the United
States is right to hold and question al-Qaida and Taliban detainees.
In a January 29 speech to fellow lawmakers, Specter said that where
interrogations of al-Qaida and Taliban captives "might lead to some
information, then that ought to be pursued, and it ought to be pursued
Specter added that if there was any chance at all that interrogation
could lead to information, which could thwart another terrorist
attack, "then it is the fundamental duty of the United States
Government to pursue that kind of interrogation."
Specter is the ranking member on the Senate Veterans Affairs Committee
and is a senior member of the Appropriations Committee, the Judiciary
Committee and the Environment and Public Works Committee. He is a past
chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee.
Following is the text of Senator Arlen Specter's speech from the
INTERROGATION OF AL-QAIDA AND TALIBAN WAR CAPTIVES
January 29, 2002
Mr. SPECTER. Mr. President, I am writing to the President of the
United States today concerning what I consider to be a very important
subject, and that is the interrogation of the al-Qaida and Taliban war
captives, where an issue has been raised as to whether they are
prisoners of war or what is their status, with some people objecting
to what is going on in the way they are being handled. There is no
doubt that the captives are entitled to humane treatment.
There have been inspection tours by national observers and by
congressional observers. The reports are uniform that the captives are
being treated humanely. They are being fed and clothed. There is
medical care. They are permitted to attend to their religious
activities. All of this is totally separate and apart from the basic
availability of those individuals to be questioned, where information,
which they might provide could shed light on the possibility of
additional terrorist attacks.
Having some experience as an investigator and a prosecutor, I know
firsthand the value of interrogation and intensive interrogation. We
are facing at this moment an enormous threat from al-Qaida. We saw
what happened on September 11. There have been three terrorist alerts
since then. The fact is there are al-Qaida spread all over the face of
the Earth. They are in Somalia, they are in the Philippines, in
Malaysia, in the Sudan. We know their tactics are based on long-term
planning projects. We know they have sleeper cells. There is reason to
be concerned that at any moment there could be another al-Qaida
attack. We do not know where. We do not know when. We do not know if.
But we have to be very vigilant.
Where these interrogations of the al-Qaida and Taliban captives might
lead to some information, then that ought to be pursued, and it ought
to be pursued vigorously.
As a matter of international law, there is a mistaken notion you can
only ask a prisoner of war his name, rank, date of birth, and serial
number. The international law experts, and I have cited them in my
letter to President Bush, are in agreement that other questions may be
asked. Certainly there cannot be torture. Certainly there cannot be
coercion--physical coercion or mental coercion. But there is no reason
why those captives cannot be questioned.
The Supreme Court of the United States has upheld deviations from
standard constitutional rights where there is an imminent threat of
harm. For example, in the landmark case of Near v. Minnesota, 283 U.S.
697, the issue came up on the question of prior restraint to stop the
publication of a newspaper. And albeit dictum, the Supreme Court of
the United States said there could be a curtailment of that kind of a
fundamental constitutional right if, for example, the publication of
the sailing date of a troop ship would place that ship in jeopardy.
The possibility of another attack on the United States, considering
what happened on September 11, we know is much more serious than an
attack on a troop ship.
The Supreme Court of the United States, in a celebrated case called
New York v. Quarles, 467 U.S. 649, came to the conclusion that the
constitutional rights of a suspect under the Miranda decision could be
circumvented if there was an immediate threat of danger to a police
officer or the public. That matter involved a rape. A police officer
pursued the suspect, saw the suspect wearing a holster, and without
giving him ``Miranda'' warnings, asked where the gun was. The Supreme
Court of the United States said that where there is an imminent threat
to public safety, constitutional rights may be abrogated, and
statements may be admissible into evidence.
But we know the very major difference between questioning for
intelligence purposes and questioning for admissibility in court. I am
not proposing this interrogation be continued for the purpose of
obtaining evidence to use against these captives, but if there is any
chance at all that this interrogation could lead to information which
could thwart another terrorist attack, then it is the fundamental duty
of the United States Government to pursue that kind of interrogation.
This matter is on the front pages today. It will be the subject of a
lot of debate. I think it ought to be known generally that there is
solid constitutional authority, international law authority, to
question prisoners of war beyond name, rank, and serial number. No
torture. Obviously, humane treatment. But if we can get any
information which would prevent a terrorist attack, it is our duty to
That is why I am writing to the President and want to make this brief
I yield the floor.
(Distributed by the Office of International Information Programs, U.S.
Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)
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