Today marks a very sad day for those who value our Constitution and the principles that it embodies. It is the day that George W. Bush signed the Military Commissions Act of 2006.
Among other things, this bill allows the President, or Secretary of Defense, to set up a "competent tribunal" to declare anyone, even American citizens, an "unlawful enemy combatant" of the United States. Good luck in finding out how these tribunals would be set up, or how they would operate.
The American Civil Liberties Union used justifiably strong language in their response to this bill, calling it, "one of the worst civil liberties measures ever enacted in American history."
Anthony D. Romero,ACLU Executive Director, put it best when he wrote:
"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."
The ACLU on this is dead on, of course.
So how is this important story being covered and responded to?
From the AP:
Some of the most notorious names in the war on terror are headed toward prosecution after President Bush signed a law Tuesday authorizing military trials of terrorism suspects.
The legislation also eliminates some of the rights defendants are usually guaranteed under U.S. law, and it authorizes continued harsh interrogations of terror suspects.
Imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and awaiting trial are Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the accused mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks, Ramzi Binalshibh, an alleged would-be 9/11 hijacker, and Abu Zubaydah, who was believed to be a link between Osama bin Laden and many al-Qaida cells.
"With the bill I'm about to sign, the men our intelligence officials believe orchestrated the murder of nearly 3,000 innocent people will face justice," Bush said in a White House ceremony.
Really? I thought Osama bin Laden hadn't been caught yet. I must have been mistaken.
If you read the AP article further you find the following dishonest assessment from Bush,
"It is a rare occasion when a president can sign a bill he knows will save American lives," Bush said. "I have that privilege this morning."
That then gets followed by this acknowledgement:
Civil libertarians and leading Democrats decried the law as a violation of American values.
While buried deep in the story, the AP article does address comments by the ACLU and one of our few courageous politicians, Sen. Russell Feingold of Wisconsin:
"We will look back on this day as a stain on our nation's history."
"It allows the government to seize individuals on American soil and detain them indefinitely with no opportunity to challenge their detention in court," Feingold said. "And the new law would permit an individual to be convicted on the basis of coerced testimony and even allow someone convicted under these rules to be put to death."
This is what America has become? This represents American 'values?'
Predictably, because so few Democrats have chosen to speak out forcefully against this, fearing it makes them look weak on 'national security,' the GOP has been given an opening.
What Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert proclaimed today has to be read to be believed. In a press release subtitled, "Democrats Choose to Pamper Terrorists and Defend Their Rights," Hastert claims:
“The Democratic plan would gingerly pamper the terrorists who plan to destroy innocent Americans’ lives. While House Republicans work to deal with these dangers like establishing Terrorist Tribunals that will prosecute enemies of America, Democrat Leader Pelosi and 159 of her colleagues voted in favor of NEW rights for terrorists.
“The House Democrat Leader does not understand that our fight for freedom does not just happen on the battlefield but also on the floor of the House of Representatives. It should come as no surprise that the Democrats in the House put their liberal agenda ahead of the security of America.”
He then lashes out in a specific attack on House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi's voting record.
I suppose when people are calling for your head for helping to cover-up a scandal, you venomously attack to take the heat off of yourself. But it exemplifies why the GOP needs to become the minority party.
Numerous times today, various Republican mouthpieces have also implied that Democrats who did not support this bill were on the side of terrorists. That is blatantly false. Anyone who thinks this law is good are the real supporters of terrorists because they have allowed those who commit terror to alter the American tradition of justice and fairness.