Chief Military Correspondent
Gen. David Petraeus to Sen. Scott Brown: No confusion here, senator.
Perhaps Brown, the newly elected conservative GOP senator from Massachusetts and a brand-new member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, shouldn't have chosen to take on Petraeus, the smoothly articulate four-star commander of all U.S. forces in the Middle East.
Brown, of course, won the seat formerly held by the late Ted Kennedy, whose office he now occupies in the Capitol. Distrustful of government ("Government is too big,'' his Senate Web site explains), he nonetheless has served almost 30 years in the Massachusetts National Guard as a lawyer. He holds the rank of lieutenant colonel.
He was named a junior member of the committee earlier this month, so he had to wait until every other member had his say Tuesday before he got to speak, a process that took nearly two hours.
"I know I'm new here,'' Brown apologized to Petraeus. But he nevertheless launched into a scathing criticism of what he described as a "confused'' U.S. military policy on how soldiers are to treat enemy fighters they capture in Iraq and Afghanistan. As Brown described it, soldiers don't know whether to arrest or just confine prisoners of war, aren't sure what rights the prisoners have or where they are to be sent after capture, or how long they can be held.
In particular, Brown complained about a rule that said prisoners can be held only 96 hours before they have to be charged or released.
"These are the questions my troops are passing on to me,'' Brown said as Petraeus, the most senior U.S. commander in the Middle East and the man responsible for those rules, sat impassively.
Undaunted, Brown pressed ahead, insisting that the confusing rules are "creating indecision with our soldiers as to what to do with the folks they've captured.''
At that Petraeus sat bolt upright.
"With respect,'' he said softly, "I don't think there is indecision in Iraq or Afghanistan. ... When someone is detained, there are quite clear procedures.'' In Iraq arrests are made under warrant by Iraqi security forces -- unless enemy fighters are captured in battle. In Afghanistan, the "very clear'' rules are that enemy prisoners can be held for 14 days if necessary.
As a military commander, Petraeus went on to explain in dulcet tones, "you have to create conditions in which your soldiers can live our values. One of those values is that if someone puts his hands in the air you detain him instead of shooting him. ...''
With that, chairman Carl Levin gaveled the hearing to a close.