Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Se. Leahy Stands Up

Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) is the ranking Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee. The text of his statement to the panel from Monday, September 25, 2006. via TomPaine.com:

Today we are belatedly addressing the single most consequential provision of this much-discussed bill, a provision that can be found buried on page 81 of the proposed bill. This provision would perpetuate the indefinite detention of hundreds of individuals against whom the government has brought no charges and presented no evidence, without any recourse to justice whatsoever. That is un-American, and it is contrary to American interests.

Going forward, the bill departs even more radically from our most fundamental values. It would permit the president to detain indefinitely—even for life—any alien, whether in the United States or abroad, whether a foreign resident or a lawful permanent resident, without any meaningful opportunity for the alien to challenge his detention. The administration would not even need to assert, much less prove, that the alien was an enemy combatant; it would suffice that the alien was "awaiting [a] determination" on that issue. In other words, the bill would tell the millions of legal immigrants living in America, participating in American families, working for American businesses, and paying American taxes, that our government may at any minute pick them up and detain them indefinitely without charge, and without any access to the courts or even to military tribunals, unless and until the government determines that they are not enemy combatants.

Detained indefinitely, and unaccountably, until proven innocent. Like Canadian citizen Maher Arar. As the Canadian government recently concluded in a detailed and candid report, there is no evidence that Mr. Arar ever committed a crime or posed a threat to U.S. or Canadian security. Yet, while returning home to Canada from a family vacation, he was detained, interrogated, and then shipped off to a torture cell in Syria by the Bush-Cheney administration. While the Canadian government has now documented that the wrong thing was done to the wrong man, the Bush-Cheney administration has, as usual, evaded all accountability by hiding behind a purported state secrets privilege.


It would be utterly irresponsible for Congress to neglect our oath to the Constitution and the American people and pass this unconstitutional legislation in the hope that the court will ultimately rescue us from our folly. Doing so would only undermine the War on Terror by prolonging the legal limbo into which the administration has dragged the entire regime of military detentions.

We should have put military detentions on a solid legal footing and established military tribunals four years ago. I introduced a bill in 2002 to authorize military commissions. So did Senator Specter. But the White House and the Republican leadership ignored us, choosing instead to roll the dice and hope that it could prevail on its radical go-it-alone theories of presidential power.


Just yesterday the press reported what the administration has been misrepresenting to the American people and what was apparently confirmed in a National Intelligence Estimate: That the invasion and continuing U.S. military presence in Iraq has created a new generation of anti-American terrorists, that the terrorist threat against the U.S. has grown and, according to intelligence officials, that the Iraq war has "made the overall terrorism problem worse." Meanwhile, having failed to try a single detainee, and having failed to secure a conviction of a single terrorist offense, the administration is demanding that we pass a bill it drafted last week before the end of this week.

The administration’s sudden and belated haste to move ahead makes no sense, other than as a matter of crass electoral politics. We are taking a first look at a bill that the administration claims is central to the decisive ideological battle of the 21st Century, a bill that would suspend habeas corpus for the first time since the Civil War, and a bill that, if enacted, will almost certainly be used by America’s enemies as a pretext for the torture and indefinite detention without judicial review of Americans abroad.

If the administration and the Republican leadership of the Senate believe that suspending the writ is constitutional and justified, they should grant the joint request that Chairman Specter and I made last week for a sequential referral of the bill. Constitutional issues involving the writ of habeas corpus are at the center of this Committee’s jurisdiction. We can and should review this legislation thoroughly, and if a few habeas petitions are filed in the meantime, we will not lose the War on Terror as a result of those filings. If this Congress votes to suspend the writ of habeas corpus first and ask questions later, liberty and accountability will be the victims.

Damn straight, Senator.

Consider all those Americans traveling abroad, some of them college students. If America goes forward with this ill-conceived, un-American legislation, what will prevent some of those college students from being detained, indefinitely and without charges, by some foreign government?

More Democrats need to stand up and say,

This. Is. Wrong.

The language used in these proposals makes it clear that you, American citizen, should be worried about this. You, American citizen, may be the next one "they" come after. Or it may be your son, your daughter, your spouse.

Is this the America YOU want to live in? Don't believe it won't affect YOU because YOU have nothing to hide. YOU won't get to decide whether YOU have something to hide. YOUR rights will be rescinded.

This. Is. Wrong.