ACLU Urges Congress to Reject Bush Military Commissions Bill, "Compromise" Lacks Due Process, Undermines Torture and Abuse Safeguards

September 27, 2006 12:00 am

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WASHINGTON – As both chambers of Congress prepare to vote on legislation establishing a system of military commissions, the American Civil Liberties Union urged lawmakers to reject the proposal, noting that the measure does not protect due process, guts the protections of habeas corpus, fails to meet international treaty obligations and would give the president authority to undermine safeguards against horrific abuse of detainees.

“This bill is a drastic step backwards for human rights,” said Caroline Fredrickson, Director of the ACLU Washington Legislative Office. “Such a dramatic sea change in the rule of law deserves more than an afternoon of hurried debate on the House and Senate floors. The proposal breaks a long tradition of American values, and will likely not stand up to the scrutiny of the Supreme Court. We urge both chambers of Congress to vote against this bill.”

The bill gives the president license to undermine enforcement of the most basic human rights protections in Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. Moreover, it would strip the courts of their historical and constitutional role as a check on the executive branch. As a result, the president would have new authority to decide much of the scope of authorized conduct and the severity of any punishment, giving him unparalleled power to unilaterally determine whether the federal government can carry out cruelty and abuse.

Also, the bill undermines America’s commitment to due process by allowing convictions on the basis of evidence that was literally beaten out of a witness or obtained through other abuse by either the federal 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. Further, the bill fails to commit the government to consider violations of the McCain anti-torture amendment criminal acts under the War Crimes Act.

A recent addition to the bill expands who can be designated a so-called “enemy combatant.” Anyone the president designates an enemy combatant could be arrested and detained without charge indefinitely and without access to the courts.

“At a time when the White House refuses to say whether vicious acts such as waterboarding would violate the bill, Congress is seeking to give a blank check to the president,” said Christopher Anders, an ACLU Legislative Counsel. “Congress should not place any trust in an administration that triggered the torture scandal by trying to suspend the Geneva Conventions for detainees and then twisted the law to authorize illegal torture and abuse.”

The ACLU’s letter on S. 3930, the Military Commissions Act of 2006, is up at:

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