People for Peace, Justice, and Healing

No Compromise on Torture!

People for Peace, Justice, and Healing

September 23, 2006

On Thursday, September 21, three Republican senators who had been resisting the Bush administration's push for legislation on military commissions to try terrorism detainees reached agreement on a 94-page bill. The proposed legislation, which may be acted upon next week, represents a terrible retreat from this nation's commitment to liberty and justice for all.

WE URGENTLY CALL on all who believe in human rights, in the historic principle of habeas corpus, in the Geneva Conventions, and in core American values to contact their senators immediately to express opposition to this bill.

Amnesty International USA is describing the compromise as "a betrayal of the America we believe in." Calling on all supporters to telephone senators, AI USA President Larry Cox said on September 22 that "[t]he soul of our nation is jeopardy." "No human rights activist can remain on the sidelines in the days ahead," he said. "Everything we believe in is on the line."

An analysis published Friday in the rightwing National Review online indicates that Cox is right. It proclaims the deal (negotiated in the vice president's office on Capitol Hill) a win for the White House. The deal was also celebrated today as a victory by the Wall Street Journal's notorious editorial staff.

But in a front-page piece in today's New York Times, the deal is lacerated as "a series of interlocking paradoxes." If enacted, the compromise bill "would impose new legal standards that it forbids the courts to enforce. It would guarantee terrorist masterminds charged with war crimes an array of procedural protections. But it would bar hundreds of minor figures and people who say they are innocent bystanders from access to the courts to challenge their potentially lifelong detentions. And while there is substantial disagreement about just which harsh interrogation techniques the compromise would prohibit, there is no dispute that it would allow military prosecutors to use statements that had been obtained under harsh techniques that are now banned."

The New York Times quoted Joseph Margulies, author of Guantánamo and the Abuse of Presidential Power (2006), who said that under the proposed legislation, for "the first time in U.S. history . . . the lawfulness of a person's detention is based on evidence secured by torture that's not shared with the prisoner, that he has the burden to rebut and without the assistance of counsel."

The director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Washington Legislative Office said on September 21: "This is a compromise of America's commitment to the rule of law. The proposal would make the core provisions of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions irrelevant and unenforceable. It deliberately provides a 'get out jail free card' to the administration's top torture officials, and backdates that card nine years. These are tactics expected of repressive regimes, not the American government. Also under the proposal, the president would have the authority to declare what is -- and what is not -- a grave breach of the War Crimes Act, making the president his own judge and jury. This provision would give him unilateral authority to declare certain torture and abuse legal and sound. In a telling move, during a call with reporters today, National Security Advisor Stephen Hadley would not even answer a question about whether waterboarding would be permitted under the agreement. The agreement would also violate time-honored American due process standards by permitting the use of evidence coerced through cruel and abusive treatment. We urge lawmakers to stand firm in their commitment to American values and reject this charade of a compromise."

Writing for National Review Online, Byron York observed yesterday: "During the long negotiations between the Republican senators and the White House, Democrats were content to stay out of the issue, saying instead that they stood with McCain against the abuse of detainees. Now, however, there is a specific agreement, and McCain is on board, as well as Graham and Warner. What will Democrats do now?"

People for Peace, Justice, and Healing urges Washingtonians to contact their senators to insist that they oppose this alarming bill. Senator Maria Cantwell can be reached at 253-572-2281, 206-220-6400, or 202-224-3441. Senator Patty Murray can be reached at 253-572-3636, 206-553-5545, or 202-224-2621.

—People for Peace, Justice, and Healing ( meets every Saturday at 10:00 a.m. at Associated Ministries, 1224 South "I" St., Tacoma, WA.

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Last updated: September 23, 2006