Rep. Kingston eyes political ammo to thwart McCain bill

Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) may use anecdotal evidence that he gathered from U.S. soldiers in Iraq as political ammunition against Sen. John McCain’s (R-Ariz.) legislation on military detainees.

While visiting Iraq this week, Kingston, the House GOP conference vice chairman, said he talked to the enlisted men who deal with prisoners of war.

“They feel that the McCain amendment is not an accurate portrayal of anything that is going on and they are really strongly against it and somewhat insulted by it,” Kingston said of his conversations with the troops.

“[The prisoners] aren’t people who have committed white collar crime. You do want to get information from them.” He recalled the soldiers saying that those members of the military who broke the laws in the Abu Ghraib torture scandal last year should be appropriately punished.

McCain was unable to comment because he was traveling abroad.

Kingston said that he will report his findings to his colleagues in the House and that he may write a “Dear Colleague” letter that would contain the information on the torture amendments gleaned from his trip.

Kingston’s assertions come at a time when retired military officials, including former Secretary of State Collin Powell, are pushing together with human rights advocates for the humane treatment of military detainees and the standardization of interrogation procedures.

Kingston traveled with Reps. Bill Shuster (R-Pa.),who led the delegation, and Dennis Rehberg (R-Mont.) and three Democrats: Reps. Kendrick Meek (Fla.), Tim Ryan (Ohio) and Adam Smith (Wash.).

This was Kingston’s second trip to Iraq.

In a blog entry published Sunday on redstate.org, Kingston said that he planned to talk to Gen. George Casey, the commander of the multi-national forces in Iraq about McCain’s legislation. However, he did not meet with Casey on the trip because Casey was in Albania, Kingston said.

McCain’s amendments are attached to both the defense appropriations and authorization bills have been fodder for intense debate in the House where the conference on the defense-spending bill is still pending because House leadership opposes them.

The Bush administration is opposed to the amendments and has threatened to veto the defense bills should they contain those measures.

But Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), along with at least 15 centrist GOP members, have been pushing for a non-binding motion to instruct conferees on the McCain amendments. Murtha said on several occasions that the McCain amendments would pass by an overwhelming vote in the House if they were brought to the floor.

In a phone interview, Meek said that troops and commanders in Iraq “strongly” feel that they are making progress, but that they would like direction from Congress and the Bush administration on how to define their successes.

“The troops need Congress and executive branch to put forth goals for success and dates when those goals should be met,” Meeks said. “We have to set goals for success and put in a timeline when they should be met.”