Posted: Sept. 22, 2006


By Celia Cohen
Grapevine Political Writer

U.S. Rep. Michael N. Castle's uncharacteristic show of solidarity with his Republican leadership in the U.S. House of Representatives did not last long.

Days after bringing John A. Boehner, the conservative majority leader, to Delaware on Saturday for a campaign fund raiser, Castle reverted to his more habitual contrariness, this time over the Geneva Conventions.

Before a compromise was announced Thursday, Castle broke with the Bush administration and the House leadership to side with three Republican senators, all with military backgrounds, to insist that suspected terrorists be treated according to the Geneva Conventions, international rules of warfare that protect prisoners of war from torture as well as lesser indignities.

Castle took his stand Tuesday in a letter he wrote with U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, a Connecticut Republican who is a fellow moderate, to the House leadership to support the position of U.S. Sens. John McCain, well-known as a prisoner of war in Vietnam, Lindsay Graham, a former JAG officer, and John Warner, the Senate Armed Services Committee chair who was a secretary of the navy.

The issue arose as part of the consideration of legislation designed to set up military tribunals for terrorism trials after the U.S. Supreme Court in June struck down a system devised by the Bush administration. The president is urging passage before the Congress leaves town next week for the campaign season.

"[We] ask that any legislation considered by the House ensure the United States fully maintains its commitment to the Geneva Convention," Castle and Shays wrote. "It is vital we not equivocate or waiver on our commitment to treating those in U.S. custody in the same manner we would expect our own citizens be treated."

It seemed so much more typical of Castle than his side-by-side routine with Boehner, who voted against Castle's signature stem cell research bill, displayed a comfort with un-Castle-like polar politics by accusing Democrats last week of coddling terrorists, and even needled Castle as being "a little squishy from time to time."

About all the two appeared to have in common was respect for one other's lawmaking skills, observed while serving together on the House Education & the Workforce Committee, and a mutual desire to stay in the majority.

It probably was not accidental that no photographs of Castle and Boehner together at the fund raiser seem to have surfaced, not in a place that takes to heart the "middle" in being a "Middle Atlantic" state.

What makes Castle a maverick in Washington usually makes him mainstream at home, as his position on the Geneva Conventions shows.

Although the Democrats largely have been content to stay on the sidelines while the Republicans dealt with their split, Castle's position turned out to be in line with key Delaware Democrats when they were asked about it.

The state Democrats' federal candidates -- U.S. Sen. Thomas R. Carper and Dennis Spivack, the congressional nominee facing Castle -- both are Vietnam-era veterans who favored the McCain-Warner-Graham approach. Republican Jan C. Ting, who is running against Carper, said he had not formulated a position.

"For a country to make its own interpretation of what is and is not permissible turns into a slippery slope," Spivack said.

U.S. Sen. Joseph R. Biden Jr., a Democrat who is not on the ballot this year, also was in step with the others. As he said a week ago during an interview on CNN, "Look, there are those extraordinary circumstances where, God forbid, we have someone and our CIA guy knows they've got an atom bomb somewhere, and he uses extraordinary methods.

"You don't make international laws to accommodate that extraordinary circumstance. You have our domestic law exonerate that person."