(This was first posted on Ade's Blog.)
The United States congress and senate have now passed Bush's Military Commissions Act and in doing so have taken a firm step towards tyranny in the United States.
Strong language, I know. But judge for yourself.
The New York Times: Rushing Off a Cliff:
Enemy Combatants: A dangerously broad definition of "illegal enemy combatant" in the bill could subject legal residents of the United States, as well as foreign citizens living in their own countries, to summary arrest and indefinite detention with no hope of appeal. The president could give the power to apply this label to anyone he wanted.
The Geneva Conventions: The bill would repudiate a half-century of international precedent by allowing Mr. Bush to decide on his own what abusive interrogation methods he considered permissible. And his decision could stay secret — there's no requirement that this list be published.
Habeas Corpus: Detainees in U.S. military prisons would lose the basic right to challenge their imprisonment. These cases do not clog the courts, nor coddle terrorists. They simply give wrongly imprisoned people a chance to prove their innocence.
Yes, the enemy combatants portion of this bill means that you or I, as Canadians, could travel to the United States, get arrested, be declared enemy combatants, and then be locked away indefinitely (perhaps forever) with no right to challenge our detention in court (habeas corpus). Kind of like what happened to Maher Arar, except now it's legal.
Worse for Americans, some interpretations of this bill indicate this could also happen to American citizens.
Los Angeles Times: The White House Warden:
Buried in the complex Senate compromise on detainee treatment is a real shocker, reaching far beyond the legal struggles about foreign terrorist suspects in the Guantanamo Bay fortress. The compromise legislation, which is racing toward the White House, authorizes the president to seize American citizens as enemy combatants, even if they have never left the United States. And once thrown into military prison, they cannot expect a trial by their peers or any other of the normal protections of the Bill of Rights.
This dangerous compromise not only authorizes the president to seize and hold terrorists who have fought against our troops "during an armed conflict," it also allows him to seize anybody who has "purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States." This grants the president enormous power over citizens and legal residents. They can be designated as enemy combatants if they have contributed money to a Middle Eastern charity, and they can be held indefinitely in a military prison.
We are not dealing with hypothetical abuses. The president has already subjected a citizen to military confinement. Consider the case of Jose Padilla. A few months after 9/11, he was seized by the Bush administration as an "enemy combatant" upon his arrival at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport. He was wearing civilian clothes and had no weapons. Despite his American citizenship, he was held for more than three years in a military brig, without any chance to challenge his detention before a military or civilian tribunal. After a federal appellate court upheld the president's extraordinary action, the Supreme Court refused to hear the case, handing the administration's lawyers a terrible precedent.
The bill also allows the Bush administration to define what constitutes torture, enabling it to continue to use favoured techniques of the Khmer Rouge like forced hypothermia and stress positions. It does not require the administration to reveal which techniques it advocates, opening up yet another loophole for the administration.
And it also retroactively prevents Americans from being prosecuted for war crimes committed in the war on terror. This is especially important for Bush now, because recent Supreme Court rulings made it clear that he had, in fact, committed war crimes by authorizing illegal imprisonment and indefinite detention of "enemy combatants" and US citizens, as well as the "outrages upon human dignity" prohibited in the Geneva Conventions, which were, until now, also American law.
All in all, it's about time to say, Good Luck America, have fun.
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