Entry for October 23, 2006

The advertisement ran in The Washington Post October 17 in in protest of Bush’s aanticipated signing of the Military Commissions Act, S. 3930.

The June 29, 2006 Supreme Court ruling  Hamdan v. Rumsfeld sent the Bush Administration scurrying to enact legal authority for its military tribunals, the Military Commissions Act, S. 3930, sisgned into law October 17.  In Mein Kampf, Adolf Hitler wrote,

in the primitive simplicity of their minds they more readily fall victims to the big lie than the small lie, since they themselves often tell small lies in little matters but would be ashamed to resort to large-scale falsehoods. It would never come into their heads to fabricate colossal untruths, and they would not believe that others could have the impudence to distort the truth so infamously. Even though the facts which prove this to be so may be brought clearly to their minds, they will still doubt and waver and will continue to think that there may be some other explanation. For the grossly impudent lie always leaves traces behind it, even after it has been nailed down, a fact which is known to all expert liars in this world and to all who conspire together in the art of lying.

 I had to wonder if that was what  U.S. Attorney Alberto Gonzales was up to today as he flacked for the newly signed law, saying in a speech at t the JAG Keystone Leadership conference that it gave

greater legal rights than are provided to lawful prisoners of war under the Geneva Conventions.

Lots of folks would beg to differ.  In a press release issued October 17, ACLU Executive Director Anthony D. Romero had said,

With his signature, President Bush enacts a law that is both unconstitutional and un-American.  This president will be remembered as the one who undercut the hallmark of habeas in the name of the war on terror.  Nothing separates America more from our enemies than our commitment to fairness and the rule of law, but the bill signed today is an historic break because it turns Guantánamo Bay and other U.S. facilities into legal no-man’s-lands.

The president can now – with the approval of Congress – indefinitely hold people without charge, take away protections against horrific abuse, put people on trial based on hearsay evidence, authorize trials that can sentence people to death based on testimony literally beaten out of witnesses, and slam shut the courthouse door for habeas petitions.  Nothing could be further from the American values we all hold in our hearts than the Military Commissions Act.

Elizabeth Holtzman, the former four-term Congresswoman (NY), who served on the House Judiciary Committee during Nixon’s impeachment and the author of a new book  The Impeachment of George W. Bush, also had sent out a statement October 17 decrying the new law:

Today will go down in the annals of infamy. By signing the military tribunals bill into law, President Bush has taken this country down a long dark road of shame.

The bill countenances abuse of detainees in defiance of the Geneva Conventions and the country’s past moral values and it suspends habeas corpus in defiance of the constitution. As bad as these features is the bill’s grant of a pardon to President Bush and his top Cabinet officials for any crimes they may have committed under the War Crimes Act of 1996.

When a president violates the country’s criminal laws and then gets a secret grant of immunity for those crimes, he makes a mockery of the rule of law. Then all lawlessness is permissible.

This provision in the bill creates a culture of impunity for torture and abuse of detainees. It was slipped into the bill in secret, without hearings or debate. Most members of Congress, most reporters and most Americans have no idea that this has happened.

By doing this the President has stuck a horrific blow at our basic democratic values and our constitutional system.

Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR)  Executive Director Vincent Warren issued a release and briefing paper on the new law:

By trading our liberty for a false sense of security, Congress has effectively granted the President the power of tyrants to undermine the foundations of Democracy…CCR intends to challenge this outrage at every turn, using every tool at our disposal, until we reverse this affront to the rule of law.

CCR also specified the legal challenges underway.

CCR has already filed the first new cases to challenge the stripping of habeas corpus: Mohammed v. Rumsfeld, a habeas petition on behalf of 25 men detained at Bagram Air Force Base; and Khan v. Bush, a habeas petition on behalf of Majid Khan, a Baltimore man held in secret by the CIA for nearly three years until President Bush transferred him to Guantánamo in early September. Both cases are in the D.C. District Court.

The law will likely also be tested in two consolidated cases brought on behalf of Guantánamo detainees currently pending before the U.S. Court of Appeals, Al Odah v. United States of America and Boumediene v. Bush. These cases represent the first 13 habeas petitions filed on behalf of Guantánamo detainees and challenge the legality of the detention of 53 men. The initial appeal was argued on September 8, 2005, and the three-panel court has yet to issue its decision. 

CCR legal director Bill Goodman said recent reports of innocent men being released from Guantánamo underscore the importance of moving quickly to defeat this law:

From Afghanistan to Spain and Germany to Pakistan, innocent men have been returned home to their families. We know, as does the Bush Administration, that many more of the roughly 450 men still held at Guantánamo are also innocent. To deny them the right to make their case and to win their freedom, is not only immoral and illegal, but undermines the concepts of liberty and democracy that this country was built on.


For more information, see  “Gonzales takes defense of Military Commissions Act to JAG conference ”  posted at 5:15 p.m.  by Joe Shaulis of The Jurist Paper Chase, published Professor Bernard Hibbits of  by the Unniversity of Pittsburg School of Law. See also  Duke University Law Schools’s analysis of Hamdan from its website Supreme Court Online



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