This week, President Bush signed into law a bill dealing with Guantanamo Bay detainees and other enemy combatants of the U.S. Most troubling, the law allows the Bush Administration to lower the treatment standards for detainees, standards created by the Geneva Conventions nearly 60 years ago. This action poses a real risk to American forces overseas.
Since the Geneva Conventions were established, Americans have understood that our military personnel are best protected by an international commitment to the highest possible standards for the treatment of prisoners.
Undermining these international accords jeopardizes the safety of our troops by weakening the moral basis for the fight against terrorists. Ceding the moral high ground emboldens our enemies to torture our troops with impudence, allowing them to cite our own disregard for international treaties to prevent such activities.
The GOP passed detainee bill also turns our 217-year-old legal system on its head because it denies Habeas Corpus to hundreds of detainees.
As Republican Senator Gordon Smith succinctly stated, “At the heart of the habeas issue is whether the President should have the sole authority to indefinitely detain unlawful enemy combatants without any judicial restraints.”
Unfortunately, the Republican bill answers yes – giving the President this sole authority.
The bill’s habeas corpus provisions are sweeping. The bill strips the federal courts of jurisdiction over habeas corpus claims of enemy combatants, pending or in the future, and it would not just be limited to detainees at Guantanamo. Rather, it would apply to any alien detained outside the U.S. who is in U.S. custody and has been determined to be an “enemy combatant.”
Many legal experts believe that the Supreme Court will find the bill’s habeas corpus provisions objectionable. Under the Bush Administration, in the five years since the 9/11 attacks, not a single one of the terrorists who planned the 9/11 attacks has been brought to justice. Because of the wording of the GOP legislation, we may very well go another five years without a conviction of a high-value terrorist suspect – because this deeply flawed bill will be tied up in the courts.
Democrats had a substitute bill that created a military commission system that would have provided the President with the toughest, swiftest, most certain way to responsibly prosecute accused terrorists, in part because it was designed to stand up to Supreme Court scrutiny.
The Democratic substitute also would have created a military commission system that lives up to the standards of the Geneva Conventions, thus increasingly the probability our military personnel would be treated fairly and humanely in future conflicts.
Unfortunately, the Democratic substitute was defeated by a party-line vote in the House Armed Services Committee. Republicans blocked Democrats from offering any amendments or substitutes to the detainee bill when it was considered on the House Floor.
The GOP detainee bill was a rushed effort (the final version of the bill was not even available until September 26, yet the House passed it on September 27). It shut out the views and legal concerns of the minority in Congress. As a result, in their zeal to pass a detainee bill to campaign on before the November elections, the safety our troops has been put at risk and our country’s international standing has once again been undermined by the Bush Administration and rubber stamp Congress.