There is no doubting the sincerity on both sides in the White House/Senate contest over rules for the interrogation and trial of terrorist suspects.
The president's ability to dominate the stage by invoking patriotism and terrorism has been challenged as never before.
But the Republican senators responsible for presenting a com- peting bill more protective of detainee rights could not count on a lot of acclaim from their constituents. Nor could Sen. John McCain have helped his own presidential prospects much by standing up to the president he hopes to succeed.
Nor could it have been easy for former Secretary of State Colin Powell, the quintessential good soldier, to differ sharply with the current secretary, Condoleezza Rice, and write to Senator McCain – the leader of the senatorial insurrection – emphasizing "our moral obligations with respect to those in our custody."
It may be that the positions of those on both sides were conditioned by their own earlier experiences.
The military experience of the president in the Texas Air National Guard and the records of his principal aides, few of whom saw active service in wartime, are not calculated to inspire great sensitivity to the possibility of being captured and harshly interrogated.
On the Senate side, to the contrary, apart from Senator McCain's own ordeal as a prisoner in North Vietnam, there is Air Force Reservist Lindsey Graham, who served in Afghanistan helping to train military lawyers and judges. Graham is the first sitting senator in decades to perform military duty in a war zone.
Sen. Arlen Specter served stateside in the Air Force as a volunteer during the Korean War. And Sen. John Warner served in the Navy and the Marine Corps before becoming secretary of the Navy.
And so when the law speaks of cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment of captives, it may have more meaning for a senator who served than for a White House official who never had to worry about possibly being tortured.
• Daniel Schorr is a senior news analyst at National Public Radio.