House Panel Passes Flawed Military Commission Bill, ACLU Urges Congress to Stand for Due Process and Rule of Law

September 13, 2006 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – The American Civil Liberties Union today condemned legislation passed by the House Armed Services Committee that establishes rules to try detainees. The bill also would amend the War Crimes Act to gut the Geneva Conventions.

“The House Armed Services Committee failed to enforce the rule of law and protect due process,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “With the November elections around the corner, Republican leaders are pursuing bills that condone the president’s abuse of power. We urge the full House to stand up for fundamental American values and reject this bill.”

The military commission bill, HR 6054, sponsored by Representative Duncan Hunter (R-CA), mirrors a White House proposal unveiled last week and passed on a vote of 52 to 8. The bill would allow a person to be convicted based on secret evidence and allow the use of evidence obtained as the result of horrific abuse. It also denies detainees access to the courts, including habeas petitions. Furthermore, it would gut the Geneva Conventions and amend the War Crimes Act to immunize from prosecution civilians who subject people to horrific abuse that may fall short of the definition of “torture.”

Early this year, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court ruled the president’s initial military commission scheme illegal because it violated Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, the most basic standard regarding treatment of detainees. The Hunter-White House bill fails to remedy any of the problems outlined by the court and creates even more problems for upholding the rule of law.

The ACLU also noted that all four Judge Advocates General urged close adherence to the existing court martial procedures, which protect a defendant’s right to see all evidence against them and reject the use of secret or coerced evidence.

The Senate is expected to consider a different bill drafted by Senators John Warner (R-VA), John McCain (R-AZ) and Lindsay Graham (R-SC). Ironically, the House Armed Services Committee rejected, on a straight party-line vote, an amendment by ranking member Rep. Ike Skelton (D-MO) to replace the Hunter-White House bill with the draft Warner-McCain-Graham proposal.

“The Supreme Court invalidated the president’s previous military commission plan, and the Hunter-White House bill fails to remedy that problem,” said Christopher E. Anders, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Congress must never abandon the very freedoms that define America, and we urge lawmakers to stand in opposition to this reckless bill.”

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