Thursday, September 28, 2006

Republicans Hell-Bent on Passing Bush Torture Bill

In an almost straight party-line vote, the Republican-led U.S. Senate yesterday shot down an effort by Democrats to substitute legislation for the White House's Military Commissions Act of 2006, which passed the House of Representatives on Wednesday. The White House-backed bill will allow the Bush administration to continue down the path of secret prisons, cruel treatment of prisoners and allowing evidence obtained through torture to be used against detainees.

Senator Carl Levin (D-MI) proposed S.Amdt. 5086 -- which passed the Senate Armed Services Committee by a bipartisan 15-9 vote -- to replace the Military Commissions Act, but Levin's bill was swept aside by a vote of 54-43. Every Republican except Lincoln Chafee (R-RI) voted against the Levin bill. Mary Landrieu (D-LA) and, as we've come to expect, Ben Nelson (D-NE) voted with the GOP to move forward with the harsher, Republican bill on Thursday.

"The changes that appear in the bill which is now before us, taken together, will put our own troops at risk if other countries decide to apply similar standards to our troops if they are captured or detained," said Levin, in arguing against the White House bill.

Levin also commented that the compromise reached between President Bush and three Republican Senators -- John Warner, John McCain and Lindsey Graham -- has produced legislation that enables an administration that “has been relentless in its determination to legitimize the abuse of detainees and to undermine some of the cornerstone principles of our legal system."

The Military Commissions Act, which passed the House 253-168, is being widely protested by human rights groups as institutionalizing the use of torture by America and was written by Republicans in response to a U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June that struck down the Bush administration's military tribunal system, as a violation of both U.S. and international laws.

Levin admitted that his substitute bill, based on the original legislation proposed by Warner, McCain and Graham and approved by the Armed Services Committee, had its own flaws -- such as an unacceptable provision on the writ of habeas corpus for detainees who believe they have been unlawfully detained. But he also maintained that his bill was the best Democrats could hope for and better than the one being pushed through by the White House.

"The military commissions that it established would have met the test of the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hamdan case and provided for the trial of detainees for war crimes in a manner that is consistent with American values and the American system of justice," said Levin.

"Unlike the Administration bill, the Committee bill would not have allowed convictions based on secret testimony that is never revealed to the accused," Levin continued. "The Committee bill would not have allowed testimony obtained through cruel or inhuman treatment. The Committee bill would not have allowed the use of hearsay where a better source of evidence is readily available. The Committee bill would not have attempted to reinterpret our obligations under international law to permit the abuse of detainees in U.S. custody."

But that's now off the table and the Senate convenes today to debate and vote on the Republican bill, with only five amendments to be considered that may water it down.

Among those amendments are one from Arlen Specter (R-PA) that would provide for some rights of Guantanamo Bay detainees to have court hearings on their incarceration and treatment and another by Ted Kennedy (D-MA) to define acceptable interrogation methods for the CIA.

“The Senate Armed Services Committee produced bipartisan legislation supported by America’s uniformed military lawyers that would have ensured the President has the tools he needs to fight terrorism and would have finally brought the accused masterminds of 9/11 to justice," said Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV) in reacting to yesterday's defeat of the Levin bill. "It is regrettable that the Republican Congress has rejected this tough and smart plan to give the American people the real security they deserve.”

Indeed. And it's also regrettable that it now looks like we're going to have a law passed that, barring intervention from the courts, will leave it to George W. Bush to interpret what types of interrogation techniques violate the Geneva Conventions.

And just how scary is that?