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Sen. Carl Levin, Detainee Amendment Sponsor


Earlier today, I spoke with Senator Carl Levin of Michigan. He's the ranking Democrat on the Senate Armed Services Committee. We just heard a clip from him in Brian Naylor's piece. In our conversation, Levin suggested that Democrats won much of what they set out to achieve, and he explained the aim of the amendment on the war in Iraq.

Senator CARL LEVIN (Democrat, Michigan): The purpose is to recommend changes to the policy of the United States on Iraq. That is a major change, 'cause you have the Senate now saying that we need changes in our policies relative to Iraq.

NORRIS: This is not exactly, though, what you were calling for. You had to hammer this out and make some compromises. How difficult was it for you to settle on what you actually passed?

Sen. LEVIN: Well, what we, of course, introduced was an amendment which laid out two things mainly. One is that we want 2006 to be a period of transition to full Iraqi sovereignty, and in order for that to happen, that the administration needs to tell the leaders of the groups and political parties in Iraq that they need to make the compromises that are necessary to achieve a political settlement because without it, you're not going to get an insurgency defeat in Iraq.

Part two, the major second part, had to do with requiring the administration to adopt a strategy. The conditions that we want to see achieved are the growth in the capability of the Iraqi military to take on independently the lead in the counterinsurgency operations and a number of other important goals that we all--we set forth. And then what we did, we also want the president--require the president to give us, every three months, a schedule to meet those conditions and if he can't meet those conditions, to give us the reason why he cannot meet the schedule which we require him to give us for achieving the goals and to create the conditions which are so important for our departure.

NORRIS: I'd like to move on, if I could, to the treatment of terror suspects and detainees at Guantanamo. The Democrats here, I guess you could say, won here on getting Guantanamo detainees the right to appeal to actions of the military tribunals to the federal courts. Critics say that this doesn't go far enough. They say that these prisoners still exist in a zone where laws that normally govern society just don't apply. What else could have been done here?

Sen. LEVIN: Well, what could have been done is we could have preserved in some way the right of habeas corpus under certain narrow circumstances, which is what Senator Bingaman tried to do. And I supported that, and I wish that we could have done that. But last week, the Bingaman approach was defeated 49-to-41 in the Senate, and so today what we did was to improve the language significantly that was adopted last week. That language was far too broad, and it is not in keeping with our Constitution or our values. People who are convicted of crimes should have an opportunity to appeal to a court. We restored that opportunity to go to a court today in the adoption of the Graham-Levin amendment.

NORRIS: Now all this has to be worked out in negotiations with the House on the defense bill. With either of these measures pass?

Sen. LEVIN: I believe so 'cause Senator Warner favors both of them, and he will be the chairman probably of the conference, I believe, this year. But in any event, he's the chairman of the Senate Armed Services Committee. I, as the ranking member, clearly believe in them, and we have a lot of support on the committee in the Senate to sustain the very strong votes that we got for these measures, and so I am optimistic that they will survive in conference.

NORRIS: Senator Levin, thank you so much for speaking with us.

Sen. LEVIN: Sure, Michele. Good to be with you.

NORRIS: Senator Carl Levin, Democrat of Michigan. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.