This Time, Congress Has No Excuse
Thursday 28 September 2006
Of all the stupid, lazy, short-sighted, hasty, ill-conceived, partisan-inspired, damage-inflicting, dangerous and offensive things this Congress has done (or not done) in its past few recent miserable terms, the looming passage of the terror detainee bill takes the cake. At least when Congress voted to authorize the Iraq War legislators can point to the fact that they were deceived by Administration officials. But what's Congress' excuse now for agreeing to sign off on a law that would give the executive branch even more unfettered power over the rest of us than it already has?
It just keeps getting worse. This morning, esteemed Yale Law professor Bruce Ackerman published this fine essay in the Los Angeles Times. His lead? "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," Professor Ackerman continued, "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."
Scary enough for you? But wait, there is more. The legislation also appears to allow illegally-obtained evidence- from overseas or right here at home - to be used against enemy combatants (which gives you an idea of where this Congress really stands on the National Security Agency's domestic spying program). And wait, there is this: the Administration's horrible track record when it comes to identifying "enemy combatants" and then detaining them here in the States. Two of the most famous ones, Yaser Hamdi and Jose Padilla, both ended up having the highest courts in our land back up their legal claims, which is why the government had to release Hamdi outright and then turn Padilla over to the regular civilian courts (where he is a defendant in a weak case against him).
Do you believe the Administration has over the past five years earned the colossal expanse of trust the Congress is about to give it in the name of fighting terrorism? Do you believe that Administration officials will be able to accurately and adequately identify so-called "enemy combatants" here at home so as to separate out the truly bad guys from the guys who just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? Did you want your legislative branch to abdicate so completely its responsibility to ensure that there are adequate checks and balances upon executive power even in a time of terror? You might have answered "no" to all three questions. But your answer doesn't matter. And neither does mine. To Congress, the answer is "yes, sir." Our Congress is about to make yet another needless mistake in the war on terror and this time the folks making it won't be able to say that the White House tricked them into it.