Friday, June 08, 2007

Senate Democrats and Iraq Vets Agree On Habeas Corpus

Senator and presidential candidate Chris Dodd (D-CT) had a great column on the Huffington Post Thursday, in which he discussed his Restoring the Constitution Act (RCA) and the need to revive America's moral authority in the world, while beginning the process of repairing a U.S. Constitution torn to shreds by the Bush administration.

"One of the saddest days in my 26-year career in the Senate occurred last fall when the Congress passed the Military Commissions Act (MCA), allowing evidence obtained through torture to be admitted into evidence, denying individuals the right to counsel, the right to invoke the Geneva Conventions," wrote Dodd. "What is at stake is whether America stands for what is right or what is wrong - whether we stand for justice that secures America or vengeance that weakens us. What is at stake is the rule of law, America's moral authority and their vital connection to America's security."

Dodd's legislation would fully repeal the MCA by, among other things, restoring the writ of habeas corpus for individuals held in U.S. custody -- which means that nobody can be held in prison indefinitely without charges based on the discretion of the Bush administration -- and sharpening the definition of "unlawful enemy combatant" to include only individuals who directly participate in active combat against the United States, and those actively involved in the attacks against us on September 11.

It also mandates that the U.S. go back to adhering to Geneva Convention obligations because, as Dodd wrote "…America has always stood for something more and our ability to lead reflected it. Based on our moral leadership, we were able to forge alliances and respect around the world, that in turn helped to secure the nation."

And Dodd, who will push to bring his legislation to the Senate floor for a vote in the coming weeks, is joined in his disdain for the MCA by none other than the Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America (IAVA), the nation's largest group dedicated to the troops and Veterans of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.

In late 2006, the IAVA published a revealing analysis intended to show who in Congress truly supports the troops and, in the words of their founder, Paul Rieckhoff, ".. whose votes back up their rhetoric, and who's just wearing an American flag lapel pin."

The nonprofit, nonpartisan IAVA Action Fund tallied every Congressional vote cast on troops' and veterans' issues for the last five years, crunched the numbers and gave everyone in Congress a letter grade showing their true support for troops and military families based on those issues.

One of the pieces of legislation the IAVA took very serious issue with was the MCA or, as some simply called it, the "torture bill" passed by Congress last year, gleefully signed into law by Bush and representing to Dodd one of the worst days of his lengthy Senate career.

Support for the MCA, which the IAVA sees as bad for active duty military as well as for America's reputation in the world, contributed to many of the "Ds" and "Fs" received by most Senate Republicans, as it was considered one of the onerous standards by which an anti-troop legislator could be judged.

Indeed, in a column last year that compared the Bush administration's rabid quest for passage of the MCA to the medieval, 14th-century torture and killing of people accused of witchcraft, IAVA spokesman Perry Jefferies called any information obtained by torturing military detainees "unreliable and dangerous to our troops."

"The heart and soul of our Republic is at risk in this law," wrote Jefferies, a retired Army First Sargent who served in Iraq, about the MCA. "That will be bad for our troops who've been able to rely on our country - bad for our security as precious resources are devoted to chasing the wild geese torture will shake out of suspects in the know or not - and it will be especially bad for America, once land of the free and brave."

"We are better than this and the men and women of our armed and security forces both deserve clear moral guidance that doesn't excuse their leaders from criminal action and also works to protect them in the event of their capture. Additionally, sound American principles of justice and fairness encourage enemy combatants to capitulate, both on the battlefield and in interrogations after capture."

Finally, Jefferies said of the MCA, "Every bit of this is fundamentally contrary to the reason that America was founded, rose to greatness, and continues today. It is a complete betrayal of our system of justice and any religious system short of devil-worship. It is disgraceful."

Another bill on the subject, passing through the Senate Judiciary Committee Thursday by an 11-8 vote, is Patrick Leahy's (D-VT) Habeas Corpus Restoration Act of 2007. While doing less overall than Dodd's legislation, that measure would reverse the worst aspect of the MCA by restoring habeas corpus rights in America.

"Habeas corpus was recklessly undermined in last year’s legislation. I hope that the new Senate will reconsider this historic error in judgment and set the matter right," said Leahy in yesterday's hearings. "Like the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the elimination of habeas rights was an action driven by fear and another stain on America’s reputation in the world."

And certainly, with the majority of Americans weary of the Bush administration's trashing of our national creed, the Congress now in Democratic hands and the country's largest Iraq-Veterans organization declaring their opposition to the downright un-American spectacle of the MCA, it looks like the dark days of that disgraceful law may be numbered.

Said Senator Russ Feingold (D-WI) in yesterday's Judiciary Committee hearings: "Whatever long-term counterterrorism strategy America pursues, it will be undermined if we fail to adhere to our longstanding American values…. we cannot begin to make a dent in terrorist recruitment and plotting worldwide without sending a clear message that the United States will adhere to the principles that make our country great."

"It is time to start to undo the harm this legislation has caused."