ACLU Urges Congress to Leash New Military Tribunals, Reestablish Oversight

November 30, 2001 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON — The American Civil Liberties Union called on the nation’s legislature to resume its oversight responsibilities over the Administration and place a leash on the President’s highly controversial military tribunal order.

“”This order doesn’t just apply to the battlefields of central Asia – it could easily be used against any one of some 20 million non-citizens within America,”” said Timothy Edgar, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “”Congress must take the responsibility for ensuring that America not forget its founding ideals of justice and fairness, principles that could be utterly absent from one of these tribunals.””

The ACLU noted that the tribunals will not follow the Uniform Code of Military Justice, which provides important due process rights in ordinary courts-martial. The new military tribunals could convict and execute people on a two-thirds vote of a panel of military officers, use secret evidence and do away with the presumption of innocence.

Since President Bush issued the tribunal order in mid-November, the decision has provoked a firestorm of controversy both in this country and overseas. The ACLU has previously called the tribunals part of an ongoing erosion of the basic checks and balances that are “”so central to our democracy.””

The ACLU strongly opposes the Executive Order because:

  • Unlike the World War II order permitting the military trial of spies and war criminals, this order was issued without Congressional authorization, as required by the Constitution, which gives Congress, not the President acting alone, the power “To define and punish . . . Offences against the Law of Nations.”
  • The Administration has not adequately explained why it needs these tribunals: “”Our courts have never failed to prosecute terrorists fairly and justly, there is no compelling rationale for this order,”” Edgar said.
  • Military tribunals can only be used constitutionally against a very narrowly defined group of people; the Administration’s order could be used against any of the 20 million non-citizens in America.
  • Military tribunals, if authorized by Congress, must comply with basic international and constitutional due process standards, which are not provided for by the order.

“”Congress must decide for itself under what circumstances, if any, military tribunals can be used,”” Edgar said.

The ACLU’s Memorandum can be found at:

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