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News :: Human Rights
Oppose and Repeal The Military Commissions Act of 2006
by Karin Martin
09 Nov 2006
Now that the US Congress has fallen under the control of the Democrats there is a chance that pressure can be used to repeal the law that legalizes torture.
This week the Democrats won control of both houses of the US Congress. There is now a chance that pressure can be put on the Congress to repeal the law, The Military Commissions Act of 2006, that legalizes torture and removes Habeas Corpus. The Military Commissions Act 2006 does 3 things:
Strips the right of detainees to habeas corpus (the traditional right of detainees to challenge their detention);
Gives the US President the power to detain indefinitely anyone-US or foreign nationals, from within the US, and from abroad-it deems to have provided material support to anti-US hostilities, and even use secret and coerced evidence ( i.e. through use of torture) to try detainees who will be held in secret US military prisons;
Gives US officials immunity from prosecution for torturing detainees that were captured before the end of 2005 by US military and CIA.
The bill was passed by the Senate sixty five votes in favor, thirty four against. Twelve Democrats joined the Republican majority. The House passed virtually the same legislation a few days earlier on Wednesday, 27 September.
The New York Times noted the far-reaching powers the Act will give the president, and other top officials observing that, "Rather than reining in the formidable presidential powers . asserted since Sept. 11, 2001, the law gives some of those powers a solid statutory foundation. In effect it allows the president to identify enemies, imprison them indefinitely and interrogate them-albeit with a ban on the harshest treatment-beyond the reach of the full court reviews traditionally afforded criminal defendants and ordinary prisoners." Furthermore, not only does the Act allow the president to determine the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions, "it also strips the courts of jurisdiction to hear challenges to his interpretation."
This can have far-reaching consequences. For example, Amnesty International says the legislation will lead to violations of international law and standards and accuses the US Congress of "failing human rights" by voting for this Act and says it "deeply regrets that Congress failed to resist this executive pressure and instead has given a green light for violations of the USA's international obligations."
The international human rights organization expands on the above 3 points (see previous link) and is summarized here:
Stripping habeas corpus and other fundamental rights
On this issue, Amnesty international notes that the Act will:
• Strip the US courts of jurisdiction to hear or consider habeas corpus appeals challenging the lawfulness or conditions of detention of anyone held in US custody as an "enemy combatant."
• Prohibit any person from invoking the Geneva Conventions or their protocols as a source of rights in any action in any US court.
• Permit civilians captured far from any battlefield to be tried by military commission rather than civilian courts, contradicting international standards and case law.
• Limit the right of charged detainees to be represented by counsel of their choosing.
• Power to detain indefinitely and torture
On this issue, Amnesty international notes that the Act will:
• Fail to provide any guarantee that trials will be conducted within a reasonable time.
• Permit the executive to convene military commissions to try "alien unlawful enemy combatants", as determined by the executive under a dangerously broad definition, in trials that would provide foreign nationals so labeled with a lower standard of justice than US citizens accused of the same crimes. This would violate the prohibition on the discriminatory application of fair trial rights.
• Establish military commissions whose impartiality, independence and competence would be in doubt, due to the overarching role that the executive, primarily the Secretary of Defense, would play in procedures and in appointments of military judges and military officers.
• Permit, in violation of international law, the use of evidence extracted under cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, or as a result of "outrages upon personal dignity, particularly humiliating or degrading treatment", as defined under international law.
• Permit the use of classified evidence against a defendant, without the defendant necessarily being able effectively to challenge the "sources, methods or activities" by which the government acquired the evidence.
• Give the military commissions the power to hand down death sentences, in contravention of international standards.
• The clemency authority would be President Bush [who] has led a pattern of official public commentary on the presumed guilt of the detainees, and has overseen a system that has systematically denied the rights of detainees.
• Permit the executive to determine who is an "enemy combatant" under any "competent tribunal" established by the executive.
FROM OCTOBER 18, 2006: Nonviolent Demonstration Held in Front of the White House to Protest the Military Commissions Act of 2006
Yesterday, a number of groups, led by the Washington Region Religious Campaign Against Torture, held a nonviolent demonstration in front of the White House to protest the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (see below description of new Act).
Sixteen people, whose names are listed below, were arrested in front of the White House west guard booth as we tried to deliver a People's Signing Statement rejecting the Military Commissions Act as a gross violation of the US Constitution and the Geneva Conventions. We also held a coffin with the inscription: "Here Lies the Corpse of Habeus Corpus." We were arrested by US Park Police and charged with "Interfering With Agency Functions." We have a January 17, 2007 trial date. For photos of the protest see www.wrrcat.org.
Let us continue to do all we can to create the Beloved Community and nonviolently resist those forces that sanction injustice, torture, war and killing. We keep our eyes on the prize and hold on!
Art Laffin, Washington DC Those arrested protesting The Military Commissions Act on October 17, 2006 at the gatest to The White House are: Susan Crane
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