“Let the world go forth from this time and place, to friend and foe alike, that the torch has been passed to a new generation of Americans, born in this century, tempered by war, disciplined by a hard and bitter peace, proud of our ancient heritage, and unwilling to witness or permit the slow undoing of those human rights to which this nation has always been committed, and to which we are committed today, at home and around the world!” – John F. Kennedy
Sorry, Jack, you were wrong about your generation. That American torch is extinguished, for now. Sad to see the line broken, but there it is. Played by fear and hate, the U.S. Congress has passed unconstitutional legislation that denies individuals detained by the United States the ability to challenge their detentions and treatment in court (habeas corpus).
Instead of holding the executive branch accountable for its abuses, Congress has now:
- Given the Executive branch unchecked power to label anyone as an “unlawful enemy combatant” and to detain such persons, including U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents.
- Said that evidence obtained through “coercion” is acceptable (just like the Inquisitions).
- Specifically denied independent judicial review of detentions.
- Tried to eliminate accountability for previous violations of the law
- Granted the Secretary of Defense authority to deviate from time-tested military justice standards for fair trials.
Fair trials, due process of law, habeas corpus, human rights – these are fundamental American values. We have nothing to be proud of in this legislation or in those who have voted for it.
Military Commissions Act: By 65 yeas to 34 nays (Vote No. 259), Senate passed S. 3930, to authorize trial by military commission for violations of the law of war, after taking action on the following amendments proposed thereto:
By 48 yeas to 51 nays (Vote No. 255), Specter Amendment No. 5087, to strike the provision regarding habeas review.
By 46 yeas to 53 nays (Vote No. 256), Rockefeller Amendment No. 5095, to provide for congressional oversight of certain Central Intelligence Agency programs.
By 47 yeas to 52 nays (Vote No. 257), Byrd Amendment No. 5104, to prohibit the establishment of new military commissions after December 31, 2011.
By 46 yeas to 53 nays (Vote No. 258), Kennedy Amendment No. 5088, to provide for the protection of United States persons in the implementation of treaty obligations.
“If Vice President Cheney is right, that some ‘cruel, inhumane, or degrading’ treatment of captives is a necessary tool for winning the war on terrorism, then the war is lost already.” – Vladimir Bukovsky, who spent nearly 12 years in Soviet prisons, labor camps, and psychiatric hospitals for nonviolent human rights activities
“No good intelligence is going to come from abusive interrogation practices.” – Lieutenant John F. Kimmons, Army’s Deputy Chief of Staff for Intelligence
The UN Committee against Torture and the UN Human Rights Committee have found the US interrogation methods are unlawful and have expressed concern at arbitrary detentions. “The bill does not take into account substantive criticism from our side … It is not the signal that I would have expected the US government and Congress would make in order to try to comply with our recommendations,” Nowak said.
In London, Amnesty International vowed a campaign against the legislation.
“Once again the Bush [team] has succeeded in significantly breaching the rule of law. This is to the great delight of the `Islamoterrorists’ whose aim is to destroy the political system of the godless West,” the Swiss daily Tribune de Geneve said in an editorial on Friday. “Bush Junior now has tailor-made justice,” it said.
“This is one of the most regressive pieces of legislation in US history,” Reed Brody, legal counsel at the New York-based group Human Rights Watch, told Reuters. “The Bush administration has been given authority to determine who is an enemy combatant and to lock people up on its own say-so indefinitely without trial,” Brody said. “We would have thought that after Guantanamo Bay, Abu Ghraib and secret prisons, the administration would have learned mistreatment and torture do not make the country safer against terrorism, but in fact render it more vulnerable.”
The International Commission of Jurists said the law put inmates at Guantanamo and elsewhere “back in a legal black hole”. “It is terrible to say the least for the detainees and rule of law in the United States, but also a dangerous precedent because it undermines international human rights law standards,” said Gerald Staberock, head of the ICJ’s global security program.
Shami Chakrabarti, director the of UK-based human rights group Liberty, said: “This unsavory political compromise will send the worst possible signal about the United States government’s commitment to the rule of law.”
Paris’s left-leaning Le Monde newspaper attacked the bill in an editorial earlier this week, saying it would give Bush “the power to authorize the CIA to use interrogation methods that respect neither US legislation, nor international law codified by the Geneva conventions. In fact, it would be able to resort to torture. Mr. Bush is playing his usual card: to put the fear of terrorism before any thought on the means to fight it.”
The fact is that Bush administration schemes don’t work – not for our national interests, not for our national security – and they strip us of some of the qualities and values that made America a country to be proud of. Privacy rights, freedom of expression, freedom of the press, the right to peaceable assembly – all of this and much else has been undermined and eroded by this horrible administration. All this, lost and given away, without addressing the root causes of terrorism or to making us any safer from those who would destroy us.
Look for the lights that still shine in the darkness. America cannot tolerate this pathological climate. Those who have a voice, speak. Those who have ears, hear and listen. Those who have wisdom, vote for the ones that have at least a little bit of that light left – real light. The torch is out, but the hearth-fires of October are banked. Carry the warm embers until the torchbearers return.