Rushing off a Cliff


The New York Times ran a great editorial today that states, in no uncertain terms, the historic folly Congress is engaged in by passing the so-called “anti-terrorism” legislation.

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.

Republicans say Congress must act right now to create procedures for charging and trying terrorists – because the men accused of plotting the 9/11 attacks are available for trial. That’s pure propaganda. Those men could have been tried and convicted long ago, but President Bush chose not to. He held them in illegal detention, had them questioned in ways that will make real trials very hard, and invented a transparently illegal system of kangaroo courts to convict them.

It was only after the Supreme Court issued the inevitable ruling striking down Mr. Bush’s shadow penal system that he adopted his tone of urgency. It serves a cynical goal: Republican strategists think they can win this fall, not by passing a good law but by forcing Democrats to vote against a bad one so they could be made to look soft on terrorism.

Last week, the White House and three Republican senators announced a terrible deal on this legislation that gave Mr. Bush most of what he wanted, including a blanket waiver for crimes Americans may have committed in the service of his antiterrorism policies. Then Vice President Dick Cheney and his willing lawmakers rewrote the rest of the measure so that it would give Mr. Bush the power to jail pretty much anyone he wants for as long as he wants without charging them, to unilaterally reinterpret the Geneva Conventions, to authorize what normal people consider torture, and to deny justice to hundreds of men captured in error.

The editorial goes on to describe the major flaws in the bill including: 1) an overly broad definition of “illegal enemy combatant” that would allow the President to arrest and detain indefinitely, with no possibility for appeal, anyone he wants. 2) The repudiation of a half-century of international precedent by allowing 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. 3) Detainees in U.S. military prisons would lose the basic right of Habeas Corpus. 4) The elimination of Judical 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 Bush would have to do to lock anyone up forever is to declare him an illegal combatant and not have a trial. 5) Coerced evidence would be permissible if a judge considered it reliable and relevant. Coercion is defined in a way that exempts anything done before the passage of the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, and anything else Bush chooses. 6) The use of secret evidence will be permissible. American standards of justice prohibit evidence and testimony that is kept secret from the defendant, but this bill eliminates that standard. 7) The definition of torture is unacceptably narrow and will undoubtedly be used as an excuse for actions against captured American troops a some point in the future.

Unfortunately, with the mid-term elections only a few weeks away, many Democrats are following Republicans in voting for the legislation in order to avoid being called “soft on terrorism.”

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