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Republican Senators say US Forces in Afghanistan 'Confused' About Detaining Enemy Combatants

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (second from r) briefs the media about his congressional delegation's recently completed trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan as Sen. Mike Crapo (left), Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Roger Wicker (right) listen, 12 Jan 20
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (second from r) briefs the media about his congressional delegation's recently completed trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan as Sen. Mike Crapo (left), Sen. Lisa Murkowski and Sen. Roger Wicker (right) listen, 12 Jan 20
Cindy Saine

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell and several other Republican senators held a news conference at the Capitol in Washington after returning from a trip to Afghanistan and Pakistan.  They said U.S. and NATO forces are making progress in Afghanistan, but that U.S. military leaders and troops are confused by Obama administration policies aimed at protecting the rights of detained enemy combatants. 

McConnell and his Republican colleagues met with Afghan President Hamid Karzai, Pakistani Prime Minister Yousuf Raza Gilani as well as Pakistani and U.S. military leaders during their visits to Afghanistan and Pakistan.  McConnell said progress and improved security were evident in all the areas where U.S. troops are present.  But he said in speaking with U.S. military leaders and soldiers he heard there is considerable confusion about procedures on detaining terrorists.

"From the top to the bottom, the American military people we talked to indicated some confusion operationally about what you do when you detain a terrorist."

Senator McConnell accused President Barack Obama of being "preoccupied with prisoners' rights, both at home and abroad, and said he believes this is wrong-headed and dangerous.

"This sort of preoccupation, if you will, that we see on full display here in the U.S. with the example of the Christmas would-be-bomber being turned over not to the military for interrogation, but to criminal courts and told he is entitled to a lawyer, is a mentality that I think is very dangerous to the war on terror," McConnell said.

After taking office, President Obama issued orders requiring strict adherence to anti-torture rules and ordered the prison at Guantanamo to be shut down within one year, which the administration has now admitted it will not be able to do because of problems finding places for the remaining prisoners to go. 

There has been discussion that some suspected terrorists captured on battlefields abroad could end up in U.S. civilian courts, and some Republican lawmakers have objected to the idea that U.S. military personnel might have to read suspected terrorists their constitutional rights. 

Human-rights organizations have criticized the Obama administration for upholding Bush administration policies that detainees in Afghanistan have no legal right to challenge their imprisonment there.  

Senator McConnell and the other Republican senators also criticized President Obama's plans to begin withdrawing U.S. forces from Afghanistan in the summer of 2011.  Republican Senator Mike Crapo of Idaho said many in Afghanistan and Pakistan doubt that the United States is committed to their countries over the long term.

"They have a concern about whether the United States is going to finish the job.  And this is creating concern in both Pakistan and in Afghanistan," Crapo said.

Senator Crapo said if people in Afghanistan and Pakistan do not think U.S. military forces and civilian aid workers will be around for much longer, they may fear coming out against the Taliban.  Senator McConnell said he assured everyone he met with that any withdrawal of U.S. forces will depend on conditions on the ground.

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