FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
WASHINGTON - The American Civil Liberties Union expressed distress as the Senate adopted S.3930, the Military Commissions Act of 2006. That bill is identical to legislation adopted by the House yesterday, and removes important checks on the president by: failing to protect due process, eliminating habeas corpus for many detainees, undermining enforcement of the Geneva Conventions, and giving a "get out of jail free card" to senior officials who authorized or ordered illegal torture and abuse.
"This legislation gives the president new unchecked powers to detain, abuse, and try people at Guantanamo Bay and other government facilities around the world," said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. "Unfortunately for America, the Senate chose not to deliberate today. Instead, it joined the House and President Bush in jamming through a hastily written bill before running home to try to campaign."
Senators rejected several amendments that would have corrected shortcomings in the legislation. The bill gives the president license to weaken enforcement of the basic protections in Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. As passed, the president would have new power to decide much of the scope of authorized conduct and the severity of punishment, giving him unparalleled power to unilaterally determine whether the government can carry out cruelty and abuse.
Additionally, the bill undermines the American value of due process by permitting convictions based on evidence literally beaten out of a witness or obtained through other abuse by either our government or other countries. Government officials who authorized or ordered illegal acts of torture and abuse would receive retroactive immunity for many of these acts, providing a "get out of jail free" card that is backdated nine years.
In the closest vote today, the Senate rejected by a 51-48 vote an amendment by Senators Arlen Specter (R-PA) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT) to preserve minimal protections of the courts in their historical and constitutional role as a check on the executive branch, through habeas corpus.
"Nothing could be less American than a government that can indefinitely hold people in secret torture cells, take away their protections against horrific and cruel abuse, put them on trial based on evidence that they cannot see, sentence them to death based on testimony literally beaten out of witnesses, and then slam shut the courthouse door for any habeas petition," said Christopher Anders, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. "But that’s exactly what Congress just approved."
The ACLU’s letter on S. 3930, the Military Commissions Act of 2006, is up at: www.aclu.org/natsec/gen/26861leg20060925.html