Friday, September 29, 2006

Senate tramples constitution, torture bill passes

I knew it would happen but it still hurts. The Military Commissions Act has been passed by the Senate 65-34, with 12 Democrats voting in support. From the NY Times:

The bill was a compromise between the White House and three Republican senators . . . .

I think I’ve found the problem right there.
Republicans argued that the new rules would provide the necessary tools to fight a new kind of enemy. “Our prior concept of war has been completely altered, as we learned so tragically on September 11th, 2001,” said Senator Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia. “And we must address threats in a different way.”

The threat since 9/11, then, is apparently greater than those we faced in World Wars I and II and the duration of the Cold War when the world sat on the brink of mutually assured nuclear destruction for 40 years. Or at least scary enough to cause those entrusted with our defense to wet their pants continuously for 5 years.
Mr. Bush attacked Democrats for voting against the legislation even before the vote began, signaling Republicans’ intention to use it as a hammer in their efforts to portray themselves as the party of strength on national security.

Bush showing his true colors here . . . is there any reason this bill couldn’t have been debated 3 months ago or 3 months from now? This was pure politics of the most debased and shameful kind. Exactly what we’ve come to expect from the modern Republican Party.
And even some Republicans who said [they] voted for the bill said they expected the Supreme Court to strike down the legislation because of the habeas corpus provision, ultimately sending the legislation right back to Congress.

“We should have done it right, because we’re going to have to do it again,” said Senator Gordon Smith, a Republican from Oregon, who had voted to strike the habeas corpus provision, yet supported the bill.

A nice sentiment, Senator Smith, but a bit irrelevant since you dishonor the principles of your faith by voting for this abomination. Likewise Senators Hatch and Bennett. I won’t speak to the other religions represented in the Senate with which I am not as familiar. But I don’t know where in the New Testament these Senators thought they would find support for waterboarding and other “coercive examination” techniques perfected by Stalin.

However, Smith is correct that this sets up a direct confrontation with the Supreme Court.
The legislation broadens the definition of enemy combatants beyond the traditional definition used in wartime, to include noncitizens living legally in this country as well as those in foreign countries, and also anyone determined to be an enemy combatant under criteria defined by the president or secretary of defense.

This means that, should the President, in his sole and unbridled discretion, determine the threat to be great enough, you or I could be strapped to the table with plastic wrap and water over our faces next.
From the WaPo:
Senators voted 51 to 48 against [an amendment] which called for deleting from the bill a provision that rules out habeas corpus petitions for foreigners held in the war on terrorism. The writ of habeas corpus, which is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, allows people to challenge in court the legality of their detention, essentially meaning that they cannot be held indefinitely without charge or trial.

The issue was one of the most contentious in the bill, which authorizes the president "to establish military commissions for the trial of alien unlawful enemy combatants engaged in hostilities against the United States for violations of the law of war and other offenses. . . ." Under the rules in the bill, statements obtained from a detainee by torture would not be admissible as evidence, but information extracted using harsh interrogation methods that violate a ban on "cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment" would be allowed if they were obtained before the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005 went into effect on Dec. 30 and if a judge found them to be reliable and in the interests of justice.

So if the government decides someone is an “enemy combatant” then that is the end of legal recourse for that person. This I would expect from China, Cuba, Sudan, North Korea, and Iran. I did not expect this from the U.S. Senate.

The WaPo article quotes Senator Specter, who had this to say:
He charged that by striking habeas corpus rights for terrorism suspects, the bill "would take our civilized society back some 900 years" to a time before the Magna Carta was adopted. He said this was "unthinkable."

But he went ahead and voted for the bill anyway! This tells you all you need to know about the “moderate” Republicans in Congress today. I was considering at one point voting for McCain over Gore in 2000. There is literally nothing he could do now to regain my respect. He, more than anyone else in the Senate, knows the corrosive influence torture has on both victims and perpetrators, and for this reason, there is a special place reserved for him now in hell.

At least one Democrat still has a sense of dignity (from the WaPo again):
"We are about to put the darkest blot possible on the nation's conscience," Leahy said. "This is so wrong. . . . It is unconstitutional. It is un-American."

The provision "makes a mockery of the Bush-Cheney lofty rhetoric about exporting freedom across the globe," Leahy said. "What hypocrisy!"

Today’s Republicans are simply unfit to govern. I sincerely hope that the fact that many/most Americans support this bill means they don’t really know what is in it. But I fear otherwise.

Bush’s legacy is right here, for later generations to judge him by. He will take his place next to Justice Taney , Senator McCarthy, and Richard Nixon in the halls of infamy and moral decrepitude.

History will not be kind.

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