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WASHINGTON - The American Civil Liberties Union today expressed opposition to the president’s proposal to try detainees and to amend the War Crimes Act to gut enforceability of the Geneva Conventions. In addition, the Department of Defense released an updated Army Field Manual on Interrogations that diminishes protections against abuse. At the same time, the president has also directed at least 14 prisoners held at CIA secret "black sites" to be transferred to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and tried there.
The following may be attributed to Anthony D. Romero, ACLU Executive Director:
"America is a nation dedicated to upholding the rule of law. However, President Bush’s draft proposal for military commissions fails to meet the standards recognized by the Supreme Court in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld. The court held the President’s initial military commission scheme was illegal because it violated Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, the most basic standards regarding treatment of detainees. The new proposal has nearly all of the same problems, and will eventually be found to be illegal. For example, it would allow a person to be convicted based on secret evidence and would allow the use of evidence obtained as the result of horrific abuse.
"The president should have listened to the current Judge Advocates General for the four military services, all of whom have urged close adherence to the court-martial procedures, and all of whom oppose the use of secret evidence and coerced evidence. By contrast, Senators John Warner (R-VA), John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) are reportedly following the advice of these top generals and admirals and supporting due process protections that are more in line with the time-tested courts-martial procedures.
"The president also proposes to gut enforceability of the Geneva Conventions by amending the War Crimes Act to completely immunize from prosecution civilians who subjected persons to horrific abuse that may have fallen short of the definition of ‘torture.’ As a result, government officials and civilian contractors who authorized or carried out waterboarding, threats of death, and other abuse would get a ‘get out of jail free’ card under the president’s bill. The nation’s soldiers and sailors would remain liable under the Uniform Code of Military Justice, but civilians would be immune from prosecution under the only statute that applies to many of these acts. That is simply wrong.
"The new Army Field Manual avoids some of the worst problems with earlier drafts and clarifies that those held by the military or at military facilities must be afforded the protections of the Geneva Conventions. However, it then creates loopholes for so-called ‘unlawful combatants’ by depriving them of the same protections--and specifically authorizes holding persons in isolation. And, the new manual does not apply to those held by the CIA. The Bush proposal is lip service unless the executive branch actually holds people accountable for violating it.
"The transfer of the detainees is the first official acknowledgement from the president that these secret CIA ‘black sites’ exist - and we urge President Bush to stop holding individuals outside the law. With a proper commission system in place, the government can bring terrorists to court, and apply true justice. We must not abandon the very freedoms that define America, and we urge Congress to reject the president’s proposal."