Saturday, July 01, 2006

Guantanamo ruling heralds political showdown

Guantanamo ruling heralds political showdown
By Patricia Wilson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Democrats see the Supreme Court's Guantanamo ruling as repudiation of a power-hungry White House. Republicans say it shows how tough President George W. Bush is on terrorists and voters will eat it up.

Both parties face a contentious political debate over the decision declaring military tribunals illegal as they look to capitalize on a national security issue ahead of crucial congressional elections in November.

"How do you go back to Chicago, Illinois, or Las Vegas, Nevada, and say 'You know what? The president is just being too mean to these people," said Don Stewart, spokesman for Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas. "That's a very difficult argument to make."

In Thursday's ruling, the nation's highest court found the tribunals, which Bush created right after the September 11 attacks for prisoners at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba, violated the Geneva Conventions and U.S. military rules.

The White House has been accused of using the war against terrorism to grab executive power at the expense of the U.S. Congress. Vice President Dick Cheney has spoken publicly about restoring the powers of the presidency after what he saw as "an erosion"' in the aftermath of the Vietnam War and the Watergate scandal.

The Bush administration has turned that tide in many ways, ranging from the fight to keep secret the deliberations of its energy task force, to its assertion of authority after September 11, including secret domestic surveillance and financial tracking programs.


"The Guantanamo ruling is a repudiation of their entire governing philosophy," said Simon Rosenberg, founder of the centrist New Democrat Network. "This philosophy has failed. It's not only failed, it hasn't passed the test of the Supreme Court."

"Unless they address that, they're just putting lipstick on a pig."

The Supreme Court rebuff pushes the issue into Congress where the road ahead is likely to be long and hard, especially with four months to go before mid-term elections that will decide if Bush's Republican Party keeps control of both the Senate and the House of Representatives.

The president, who is struggling with the lowest poll ratings of his term mostly because of the unpopular Iraq war, and his political architect Karl Rove have played the national security card to successfully trump Democrats in previous elections.

And Republicans believe the Supreme Court has dealt them another winning hand, especially with voters in middle America.

"The president's fighting and killing terrorists and we think he has to be more gentle?" Stewart said. "The Democrats are making a gigantic mistake by going out and talking about what will be translated into English as the president is too tough on terrorists."

Republican consultant Scott Reed said the court's decision served to "remind everybody what it was like right after 9/11."

"I think in raw politics, it is a net positive for Bush to bring clarity and remind people we're in this war," he said.

Democrats believe they're ready for any Republican onslaught and don't think voters will buy into the Democrats-are-weak argument again.

"They'll throw the biggest chunk of mud that they can come up with," a senior Democratic official said. "That we must be heartened by this ruling because we don't want to see any terrorists get prosecuted. That is just ridiculous."

Bush and Rove already have stepped up their attacks on Democrats in the past couple of weeks, accusing some of wanting to "cut and run" and "waving the white flag" in Iraq.

"They haven't worked," the official said, citing polls showing most Americans want U.S. troops out of Iraq and think the U.S.-led invasion was a mistake.

"I just don't think people are going to buy it," Rosenberg said. "We've seen the movie before and we know what happens."