Military Tribunal Law: 'Stealth Pardon' or 'Standing Tall'?
July 7, 2008
(CNSNews.com) - When President Bush signed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 into law on Tuesday, he unleashed a firestorm of reaction that ranged from accusations that the measure provides Bush administration officials with "a stealth pardon" for war crimes to comments that the law shows the U.S. is "standing tall in the war on terror."
"It is a rare occasion when a president can sign a bill he knows will save American lives," the president said before signing the military tribunal law, which he called "one of the most important pieces of legislation in the war on terror."
The new law "will also allow us to prosecute captured terrorists for war crimes through a full and fair trial" because "this nation is patient and decent and fair," but "we will never back down from the threats to our freedom," he said.
"This program has been one of the most successful intelligence efforts in American history," Bush added. "It has helped prevent attacks on our country, and the bill I sign today will ensure that we can continue using this vital tool to protect the American people for years to come.
Elizabeth Holtzman, a former four-term congresswoman from New York who co-wrote the new book "The Impeachment of George W. Bush," had a different perspective on the Tuesday event.
"Today will go down in the annals of infamy," Holtzman said in a news release. "By signing the military tribunals bill into law, President Bush has taken this country down a long dark road of shame.
"The bill countenances abuse of detainees in defiance of the Geneva Conventions and the country's past moral values, and it suspends habeas corpus in defiance of the Constitution," she added.
"As bad as these features is the bill's grant of a pardon to President Bush and his top Cabinet officials for any crimes they may have committed under the War Crimes Act of 1996," Holtzman said.
By giving himself and his fellow officials "a stealth pardon" through a part of the legislation that "was slipped into the bill in secret," Holtzman said, "the president has struck a horrific blow at our basic democratic values and our constitutional system."
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) responded to the signing by noting that "Democrats voted overwhelmingly to go to war in Afghanistan so that those responsible for the 9/11 attacks would be brought to justice."
"More than five years later, because of the failure of the Bush administration to devise a legal process that could withstand the scrutiny of the Supreme Court, not a single person who planned the attacks has been tried and convicted," she said in a press release.
"That record of failure is unlikely to be improved by the military commissions bill President Bush signed today," Pelosi added. "Legal challenges to the bill may result in convictions being overturned, punishments being set aside and justice being further delayed.
"In addition, because the bill allows the president to interpret the Geneva Conventions through executive order, it invites other countries to do the same, thereby weakening the international legal standards that have protected our troops for decades," she noted.
"Democrats want terrorists who kill Americans tried, convicted and punished through a constitutionally sound process that will be upheld on appeal," Pelosi said. "That goal will not be achieved by the bill President Bush signed into law today."
House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) criticized Pelosi and 159 of her fellow Democrats for "putting their liberal agenda ahead of the security of America" when they voted against the measure.
"The House Democrat leader does not understand that our fight for freedom does not just happen on the battlefield, but also on the floor of the House of Representatives," he noted. "The Democratic plan would gingerly pamper the terrorists who plan to destroy innocent Americans' lives.
"The Global War on Terror is different from any war we have ever known," Hastert said. "That is why this terrorist tribunal legislation is so vital. It adapts our judicial system to allow for the prosecution and punishment of these suspected enemy combatants while maintaining the basic rights that we all hold dear."
House Judiciary Committee Chairman F. James Sensenbrenner, Jr., agreed, noting that the measure signed into law on Tuesday will "assist the U.S. in standing tall in the War on Terror."
"Today's legislation establishes a legal structure for handling dangerous terrorists while keeping sensitive intelligence information out of the hands of our enemies," the Wisconsin Republican noted.
"We shouldn't forget that the legal protections the terrorists will be afforded under this bill are among those that they have extinguished for thousands of innocent people," Sensenbrenner added.
"To defend the nation after Sept. 11, 2001, we had to go on offense," said House Majority Whip Roy Blunt. "The ability to conduct military tribunals is crucial to our effort to turn back the tide of violence and hatred that fuels the terrorists."
"We are facing an enemy that has a clear objective of destroying our American way of life, and we need every tool available to prosecute these terrorists," the Missouri Republican said. "The Military Commissions Act will enable our troops and intelligence agents to operate against a new enemy on a new battlefield."
As Cybercast News Service previously reported, Amnesty International USA criticized the measure after it was approved by the House and Senate.
"Now bad policy has become bad law," Larry Cox, the group's executive director, said Tuesday. "The administration can now hold people indefinitely, without charge or without trial, with Congressional authorization.
"A person's ability to challenge his detention and invoke fundamental rights in court is a critical protection against abuses by any government," Cox said. "By striking down these rights, this legislation is an historic step backwards and creates a fertile breeding ground for violations to continue.
"Amnesty International will continue to push the administration and Congress to provide clarification," Cox added. "We're not giving up. We're fighting back, and we're fighting back hard."
See Earlier Stories:
Bush Proposes Bill to Try Foreign Terrorists at Military Commissions (Sept. 6, 2006)
Gitmo Detainees' Lawyers Attack Military Tribunal Bill (Sept. 18, 2006)
Republicans Accuse Democrats of 'Coddling' Terrorists (Sept. 28, 2006)
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