President Bush signed into law today the so-called "Military Commissions Act." I list below the elements of that law that personally offend me.
The term `unlawful enemy combatant' means--`(i) a person who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents
This offends me because the definition is too broad. The statements of the current administration regarding members of the press has included statements saying that they have supported terrorists by reporting the illegal activities of the administration. By writing this list I may be determined to be an "unlawful enemy combatant."
The following provisions of this title shall not apply to trial by military commission under this chapter:`(A) Section 810 (article 10 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice), relating to speedy trial, including any rule of courts-martial relating to speedy trial.`(B) Sections 831(a), (b), and (d) (articles 31(a), (b), and (d) of the Uniform Code of Military Justice), relating to compulsory self-incrimination.`(C) Section 832 (article 32 of the Uniform Code of Military Justice), relating to pretrial investigation.
This offends me because it runs blatantly in the face of centuries of tradition of fair trials. Rather than use the well-tested UCMJ, this act makes broader declarations of how the trial will be conducted. Of particular interest is the treatment of the "Detainee Treatment Act of 2005." Statements from people brought before such a tribunal that were made before the passage of that act are admissible to the court if "the degree of coercion [used in obtaining them] is disputed." This is to be used, of course, if "the totality of the circumstances renders the statement reliable and possessing sufficient probative value" and "the interests of justice would best be served by admission of the statement into evidence." The interesting thing is that statements made after the date of enactment of that act must also pass the test that "the interrogation methods used to obtain the statement do not amount to cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment."
A military commission established under this chapter is a regularly constituted court, affording all the necessary `judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples' for purposes of common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.
Declaring it so does not make it so. I, as one civilized person, do not recognize that such a court would provide such indispensable judicial guarantees.
Pretrial, trial, and post-trial procedures, including elements and modes of proof, for cases triable by military commission under this chapter may be prescribed by the Secretary of Defense, in consultation with the Attorney General. Such procedures shall, so far as the Secretary considers practicable or consistent with military or intelligence activities, apply the principles of law and the rules of evidence in trial by general courts-martial.
"So far as the Secretary considers practicable." So Donald Rumsfeld (in consultation with the Attorney General who called the Geneva Conventions "quaint") gets to decide how these courts are run. While I don't expect that he'll go through the minutia himself, I expect that the general course of the proceedings will vary greatly from standard courts and even standard courts-martial in ways that infringe upon the rights of the accused.
As provided by the Constitution and by this section, the President has the authority for the United States to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions....
This offends me because I do not trust the current President to interpret or apply the Geneva Conventions in a manner that a reasonable person would call fair.
No court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.
This is, perhaps, the most offensive part of this act. No court, not even the Supreme Court, can consider a writ of habeas corpus for any alien detained by the United States. Even if such person has not been determined to be the vaguely defined "enemy combatant" but is merely "awaiting such determination." This reads to me like the President can order the kidnapping of any foreign national and hold them indefinitely without any recourse. This is the sort of thing that I write letters to oppressive regimes about in connection with Amnesty International.
I am saddened, angered and offended that such a travesty of law would pass through the Congress and be signed into law by the President. I can only hope that the Supreme Court will strike down this law. In the meantime, I shall have to do what I can to support those that I hope will work to reverse it and do what I can to express my civil liberties while I still can.