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Saturday, September 30, 2006

Cowardly Congress to Pass Unconstitutional Detainee Bill

Welcome to the lawless land.

Associated Press:

Congress sent President Bush a bill Friday that endorses his plan to interrogate and prosecute terror suspects, legislation Republicans hope will win them political points on the campaign trail.

Once Bush signs it, which he was expected to do very soon, the military can begin prosecuting terror suspects.

Many Democrats opposed the legislation because they said it eliminated rights of defendants considered fundanamental to American values, such as a person's ability to protest court detention and the use of coerced tesimony as evidence.

This bill is a pig. It's probably the worst piece of legislation to get to the President's desk in my lifetime -- I say 'probably', because this bill shows that no abuse of liberty is beyond the current Congress. The New York Times compare it to the Alien and Sedition Act. We now allow the President -- a big fan of torture -- to define what constitutes torture. We've taken the right of Habeus Corpus away from anyone the administration calls a terrorist. If you've done nothing wrong, you can be imprisoned and you'll have no opportunity to plead your innocence. The President can imprison anyone, without presenting evidence, for as long as he likes.

In his statement in opposition to the bill, Sen. Russ Feingold told the Senate, "Some have suggested that terrorists who take up arms against this country should not be allowed to challenge their detention in court. But that argument is circular – the writ of habeas allows those who might be mistakenly detained to challenge their detention in court, before a neutral decision-maker. The alternative is to allow people to be detained indefinitely with no ability to argue that they are not, in fact, enemy combatants. Unless any of my colleagues can say with absolute certainty that everyone detained as an enemy combatant was correctly detained – and there is ample evidence to suggest that is not the case – then we should make sure that people can’t simply be locked up forever, without court review, based on someone slapping a 'terrorist' label on them."

"There is another reason why we must not deprive detainees of habeas corpus," he continued, "And that is the fact that the American system of government is supposed to set an example for the world, as a beacon of democracy. And this provision will only serve to harm others’ perception of our system of government." Turn off the beacon and blow out the candle in the window -- we've given up our leadership role in the world.

The New York Times lists some of the many flaws in this legislation:

The Geneva Conventions: The bill would repudiate a half-century of international precedent by allowing Mr. Bush to decide on his own what abusive interrogation methods he considered permissible. And his decision could stay secret — there’s no requirement that this list be published.

Habeas Corpus: Detainees in U.S. military prisons would lose the basic right to challenge their imprisonment. These cases do not clog the courts, nor coddle terrorists. They simply give wrongly imprisoned people a chance to prove their innocence.

Judicial Review: The courts would have no power to review any aspect of this new system, except verdicts by military tribunals. The bill would limit appeals and bar legal actions based on the Geneva Conventions, directly or indirectly. All Mr. Bush would have to do to lock anyone up forever is to declare him an illegal combatant and not have a trial.

Coerced Evidence: Coerced evidence would be permissible if a judge considered it reliable — already a contradiction in terms — and relevant. Coercion is defined in a way that exempts anything done before the passage of the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, and anything else Mr. Bush chooses.

Secret Evidence: American standards of justice prohibit evidence and testimony that is kept secret from the defendant, whether the accused is a corporate executive or a mass murderer. But the bill as redrafted by Mr. Cheney seems to weaken protections against such evidence.

Offenses: The definition of torture is unacceptably narrow, a virtual reprise of the deeply cynical memos the administration produced after 9/11. Rape and sexual assault are defined in a retrograde way that covers only forced or coerced activity, and not other forms of nonconsensual sex. The bill would effectively eliminate the idea of rape as torture.

That's right, we've legalized rape as a 'harsh interrogation technique'. On the bright side -- if there is one -- is that, as Feingold put it, "[I]t almost surely violates our Constitution." The downside is that "[T]hat determination will take years of protracted litigation." In other words, it's nearly certain that even the current right-heavy Supreme Court will strike it down, but the legal system can be very slow.

To go back to Feingold's statement one last time:

Let me be clear: I welcome efforts to bring terrorists to justice. It is about time. This Administration has too long been distracted by the war in Iraq from the fight against al Qaeda. We need a renewed focus on the terrorist networks that present the greatest threat to this country.

But Mr. President, we wouldn’t be where we are today, five years after September 11 with not a single Guantanamo Bay detainee having been brought to trial, if the President had come to Congress in the first place, rather than unilaterally creating military commissions that didn’t comply with the law. The President wanted to act on his own, and he dared the Supreme Court to stop him. And he lost. The Hamdan decision was an historic rebuke to an Administration that has acted for years as if it were above the law.

Bush will lose this one, too. When did the Constitution, the rule of law, the rights of the accused, and basic justice become impediments? Sen. Majority Leader Bill Frist admitted on Hannity & Colmes that innocent people can be kept indefinitely under this bill:

COLMES: We don't even have a declared war. Congress never declared war. Also, the government doesn't have to charge anybody, doesn't have to use — military tribunals can keep them. A perfectly innocent person has no way to prove that they're innocent and no recourse to do so, and some question whether this could stand a constitutional test.

FRIST: Well, you know, we'll wait and see, but you are right. People can be detained. But the legislation we passed in the Senate now just a couple of hours ago and that will be signed by the president, because the House has passed this exact same bill, for the first time sets up these military commissions, these terrorist tribunals, that with a lot of rights given to these detainees, the trial justice — trials can be carried out. Justice can be carried out.

Not only does Frist admit that innocent people can be kept as 'detainees' -- basically for life, since Bush says this is a 'generational struggle' -- but he show a profound misunderstanding of the concept of rights. He talks to Alan Colmes about 'rights given to these detainees'. But government doesn't bestow rights, rights are inherent. The government bestows privileges. The Senate Majority Leader believes that the right to challenge your imprisonment is not a right, but a privilege. The guy doesn't belong in government.

What have we become? Torture and rape have been written into our laws as 'weapons in the war on terror'. As this bill climbs the judicial ladder and is struck down in lower courts, people will start talking about 'activist judges'.

When someone talks about 'judicial activism' to you, do me a favor. Reach out to them. Reach out with all the love and passion and sense of justice you have. Reach out and slap the damned fool upside the head.

To take legal protections away from people limits our freedom. For five years we've been told that we're going to have to give up some rights in favor of safety. But here's a question; when do we stop giving up rights? And here's another; what nation is safer but less free? If giving up rights makes you safer, wouldn't the people in Saddam Hussein's prisons have been the safest people in the world?

What's really going on here is desperation. Bush and the Republicans have been selling this 'war on terror' for five years and, with pretty much nothing to show for it but an increase in terrorism and an idiotic war without purpose, the administration is getting panicky. The voters are suffering the most severe case of buyer's remorse that I can remember and, without their 'war on terror', these guys have absolutely nothing.

Nothing, that is, but the failed utopian vision of the neocons. The spread of democracy throughout the middle east -- the first step toward an american world -- is a dead dream. The irony is that the neocons screamed about middle eastern democracy and freedom for years and now, here we are, taking freedoms away to try to salvage the rightwing dream of a 'New American Century' and the fantasy of a world grateful for american hegemony.

There's always hope for the republic, but the tunnel visionaries' dream is dead. They're like the surgeon on a TV drama, beating the chest of a corpse as the monitors give out a steady tone, screaming, "Live, damn you! Live!"

On TV, a nurse always steps in and says, "Doctor, it's over..." We need to tell these morons it's over.


Some rightwinger's going to read this and get seriously pissed off. Sucks to be you.

Remember that Bush isn't going to be President forever. Some Democrat's going to come along and they're going to have this power -- unless it's taken from the executive first. You show me what in this bill prevents a President from labeling just about anyone a terrorist and keeping them locked away without trial -- remember, you can't appeal the label. You show me where it says that every member of the NRA or Operation Rescue or whatever other rightwing group you're a fan of can't be declared a terrorist and thrown in the oubliette.

You show me why this law can't be used against you, then we'll talk about how 'necessary' it is...


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