Tuesday, March 13, 2007

We're waiting...

Last year's Military Commissions Act, the passage of which will forever haunt this country (if for no other reason than by laying bare the nature of the American Zeitgeist) does the following:
- purports to strip an "unlawful enemy combatant" of the protection of the Geneva Conventions (albeit proclaiming that the accused is accorded treatment consonant with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions);

- denies unlawful enemy combatants imprisoned at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, the right to appeal to federal district courts for a writ of habeas corpus;

- ratifies by fiat the President's position as prosecutor-in-chief, judge, jury, and court-of-last-appeal in determining whether a detainee is an unlawful enemy combatant through the mechanism of the "Combatant Status Review Commission";

- circumscribes the right of appeal to a Military Commissions Review Court and thence to the Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, perhaps the most powerful of all the circuit courts since appeals against administrative rulings by government bureaucracies fall within its jurisdiction; and

- creates a dual set of minimum standards for allowable interrogation techniques and general treatment of detainees--the Army Field Manual for the military and a separate set of rules and prohibitions for the CIA and other non-military personnel.
Presumably, the Democrats gained majorities in the House and Senate in order to curb the excesses of the last several years. So, what has this Congress done with that mandate thus far? Nothing substantial:
Although their majorities in both Houses of Congress empowered Democrats to set the legislative agenda in the 110th Congress, they seemed less than decisive in demanding an accounting for alleged illegal acts. For example, on February 16, Representative David Wu (OR) introduced H.R. 1189, the Habeas Corpus Preservation Act. This bill, consisting of one operative paragraph of 52 words, reads:
Nothing in the Military Commissions Act of 2006 or any amendment made by that Act shall affect the right of any resident of the United States of America to habeas corpus. The preceding sentence shall be construed in accordance with the 5th and 14th Amendments to the Constitution of the United States.
Legally, this proposed legislation only reaffirms that nothing in the 2006 Military Commissions Act (Public Law 109-366), whose provisions are directed toward detainees being held at the U.S. Naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, shall be construed to restrict, deny, or in any manner diminish the rights of legal U.S. residents (as distinct from U.S. citizens) to the protections of the two constitutional amendments cited.
So, yeah, maybe the issue has received a bit more attention than it would have otherwise, but while Congress fiddles there are human beings suffering under cruel and degrading conditions without much if any hope of getting out.

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