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|10/17: Detainee bill a step backwards
Released 18 October 2006  By Denver Post Opinion
Detainee bill a step backwards
Denver Post Opinion
The legislation signed by President Bush providing for trial of suspected terrorists by special military tribunals should be challenged in court, and the sooner the better.
Congress passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 law in a fit of pre-election cowardice, three months after the U.S. Supreme Court found that the administration was violating protections in U.S. and international law. The new law gives the president broad powers to "interpret the meaning and application" of international standards for prisoner treatment.
That's bad enough, but the new law also allows the indefinite detention of scores of detainees. It allows hearsay evidence during trial and prohibits detainees from having their cases reviewed in a U.S. court, a fundamental protection of U.S. law.
The administration was avid to suspend habeas corpus, an venerable right. Immediately after Tuesday's signing, the Justice Department wrote to a U.S. appeals court in Washington saying the new law strips Guantanamo detainees of their right to court hearings to challenge their confinement. It's on the habeas issue that the Center for Constitutional Rights in New York expects to challenge the law, said CCR's Bill Goodman.
Bush signed the bill before a group that included Vice President Dick Cheney and Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.
"Over the past few months, the debate over this bill has been heated, and the questions raised can seem complex," Bush said. "Yet, with the distance of history, the questions will be narrowed and few: Did this generation of Americans take the threat seriously? And did we do what it takes to defeat that threat?"
Opponents weren't budging. "Congress had no justification for suspending the writ of habeas corpus - a core value in American law - in order to avoid judicial review that prevents government abuse," said Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt.
We're anxious to see Sept. 11 suspect Khalid Sheik Mohammed and other detainees brought to trial, but procedures in the new law compromise basic American principles and could endanger Americans detained overseas. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell told The Washington Post last month: "Whether we believe it or not, people are starting to question whether we are following our own high standards."
In Colorado's congressional delegation, only Reps. Diana DeGette and Mark Udall voted to oppose this law. Sen. Ken Salazar said he believes its provisions outlaw torture and that the bill will "jumpstart the process to determine the guilt or innocence of hundreds of people the Bush administration has held in captivity and in limbo for years."
The Military Commissions Act is sure to have its day in court, with 435 detainees awaiting the outcome. We believe the U.S. Supreme Court should reject the most egregious provisions of the new law and order that terror trials proceed within the rule of the nation's accepted legal practice.
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