Occasional blogging, mostly of the long-form variety.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

"No Excuse" for Detainee Bill

The Specter-Levin amendment to the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (the "Detainee Bill") to preserve the Great Writ of habeas corpus failed by three votes, with the vote splitting almost completely along party lines. You can see the scoundrels and their vote breakdown here.

It's all over but the shouting. Not only have the GOP gutted the United States Constitution, they've assaulted the essential values that caused us to start the American Revolution in the first place - core principles that go back to the Magna Carta in 1215. Such is the awesome leadership, moral clarity and unerring judgment of President George W. Bush. Such is the fear that drives the GOP – not so much of terrorists, but of not getting re-elected, and losing party dominance.

I'll have to research which level of hell in Dante's Inferno this merits them ( Aha. I'm going with the Eighth Circle).

Dan Froomkin supplies another splendid entry that round-up most of the best commentary on the bill itself (the amendment vote had not occurred yet):

From today's New York Times editorial: "Here's what happens when this irresponsible Congress railroads a profoundly important bill to serve the mindless politics of a midterm election: The Bush administration uses Republicans' fear of losing their majority to push through ghastly ideas about antiterrorism that will make American troops less safe and do lasting damage to our 217-year-old nation of laws -- while actually doing nothing to protect the nation from terrorists. Democrats betray their principles to avoid last-minute attack ads. Our democracy is the big loser. . . .

"Americans of the future won't remember the pragmatic arguments for caving in to the administration.

"They'll know that in 2006, Congress passed a tyrannical law that will be ranked with the low points in American democracy, our generation's version of the Alien and Sedition Acts."

Mark Benjamin and Walter Shapiro write in Salon: "Despite the far-reaching implications of the legislation, the Senate galleries were virtually empty throughout the day, while most news coverage treated the congressional debate as of far more transient importance than the recent television confrontation between Bill Clinton and Fox TV host Chris Wallace. Many legislators had only a shaky understanding of what was in the Senate bill since its provisions were still being revised, after consultation with the White House, Tuesday night. As California Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein complained in a Tuesday interview, 'I don't understand this rush other than to make it very political. This is a huge thing that our people are going to have to live by . . . It is important not only that it works, but that it also be just.'"

Dahlia Lithwick, writing in Slate, marvels that senators working in avowed ignorance of what precisely the administration has been doing are now approving legislation that they themselves don't understand.

"For the five years since 9/11, we have been in the dark in this country. This president has held detainees in secret prisons and had them secretly tortured using secret legal justifications. Those held in secret at Guantanamo Bay include innocent men, as do those who have been secretly shipped off to foreign countries and brutally tortured there. That was a shame on this president.

"But passage of the new detainee legislation will be a different sort of watershed. Now we are affirmatively asking to be left in the dark. Instead of torture we were unaware of, we are sanctioning torture we'll never hear about. Instead of detainees we didn't care about, we are authorizing detentions we'll never know about. Instead of being misled by the president, we will be blind and powerless by our own choice. And that is a shame on us all."

I found one more commentator, Andrew Cohen, at his Washington Post legal blog Bench Conference, who also really nailed it. Here's his comments, in full. Here's the link to the original page, as well as the comments.

This Time, Congress Has No Excuse

Of all the stupid, lazy, short-sighted, hasty, ill-conceived, partisan-inspired, damage-inflicting, dangerous and offensive things this Congress has done (or not done) in its past few recent miserable terms, the looming passage of the terror detainee bill takes the cake. At least when Congress voted to authorize the Iraq War legislators can point to the fact that they were deceived by Administration officials. But what's Congress' excuse now for agreeing to sign off on a law that would give the executive branch even more unfettered power over the rest of us than it already has?

It just keeps getting worse. This morning, esteemed Yale Law professor Bruce Ackerman published this fine essay in the Los Angeles Times. His lead? "Buried in the complex Senate compromise on detainee treatment is a real shocker, reaching far beyond the legal struggles about foreign terrorist suspects in the Guantanamo Bay fortress. The compromise legislation, which is racing toward the White House, authorizes the president to seize American citizens as enemy combatants, even if they have never left the United States. And once thrown into military prison, they cannot expect a trial by their peers or any other of the normal protections of the Bill of Rights.

"This dangerous compromise," Professor Ackerman continued, "not only authorizes the president to seize and hold terrorists who have fought against our troops 'during an armed conflict,' it also allows him to seize anybody who has 'purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States.' This grants the president enormous power over citizens and legal residents. They can be designated as enemy combatants if they have contributed money to a Middle Eastern charity, and they can be held indefinitely in a military prison."

Scary enough for you? But wait, there is more. The legislation also appears to allow illegally-obtained evidence-- from overseas or right here at home-- to be used against enemy combatants (which gives you an idea of where this Congress really stands on the National Security Agency's domestic spying program). And wait, there is this: the Administration's horrible track record when it comes to identifying "enemy combatants" and then detaining them here in the States. Two of the most famous ones, Yaser Hamdi and Jose Padilla, both ended up having the highest courts in our land back up their legal claims, which is why the government had to release Hamdi outright and then turn Padilla over to the regular civilian courts (where he is a defendant in a weak case against him).

Do you believe the Administration has over the past five years earned the colossal expanse of trust the Congress is about to give it in the name of fighting terrorism? Do you believe that Administration officials will be able to accurately and adequately identify so-called "enemy combatants" here at home so as to separate out the truly bad guys from the guys who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? Did you want your legislative branch to abdicate so completely its responsibility to ensure that there are adequate checks and balances upon executive power even in a time of terror? You might have answered "no" to all three questions. But your answer doesn't matter. And neither does mine. To Congress, the answer is "yes, sir." Our Congress is about to make yet another needless mistake in the war on terror and this time the folks making it won't be able to say that the White House tricked them into it.

It's hard to believe this is still America.

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