Friday, September 29, 2006

Senator Leahy Said...

The President recently said that ``time is of the essence'' to pass legislation authorizing military commissions. Time was of the essence when this administration took control and did not act on the dire warnings of terrorist action. Time was of the essence in August and early September 2001 when the 9/11 attacks could still have been prevented. This administration ignored warnings of a coming attack and even proposed cutting the anti-terror budget. It focused on Star Wars, not terrorism. Time was of the essence when Osama bin Laden was trapped in Tora Bora.
After 5 years of unilateral actions by this administration that have left us less safe, time is now of the essence to take real steps to keep us safe from terrorism like those in the Real Security Act, S. 3875. Instead, the President and the Republican Senate leadership call for rubberstamping more flawed White House proposals in the run up to another election. I hope that this time the U.S. Senate will act as an independent branch of the government and finally serve as a check on
this administration.
We need to pursue the war on terror with strength and intelligence, but also to do so consistent with American values. The President says he wants clarity as to the meaning of the Geneva Conventions and the War Crimes Act. Of course, he did not want clarity when his administration was using its twisted interpretation of the law to
authorize torture, cruel and inhumane treatment of detainees and spying on Americans without warrants and keeping those rationales and programs secret from Congress. The administration does not seem to want clarity when it refuses even to tell Congress what its understanding of the law is following the withdrawal of a memo that said the President could authorize and immunize torture. That memo was withdrawn because it could not stand up in the light of day.
It seems that the only clarity this administration wants is a clear green light from Congress to do whatever it wants. That is not clarity; it is immunity. That is what the current legislation would give to the President on interrogation techniques and on military commissions. Justice O'Connor reminded the nation before her retirement that even war is not a ``blank check'' when it comes to the rights of Americans. The Senate should not be a rubberstamp for policies that undercut
American values and make Americans around the world less safe.
In reality, we already have clarity. Senior military officers tell us they know what the Geneva Conventions require, and the military trains its personnel according to these standards. We have never had trouble urging other countries around the world to accept and enforce the provisions of the Geneva Conventions. There was enough clarity for that. What the administration appears to want, instead, is to use new legislative language to create loopholes and to narrow our obligations not to engage in cruel, degrading, and inhuman treatment.

In fact, the new legislation muddies the waters. It saddles the War Crimes Act with a definition of cruel or inhuman treatment so oblique that it appears to permit all manner of cruel and extreme interrogation techniques. Senator McCain said this weekend that some techniques like waterboarding and induced hypothermia would be banned by the proposed law. But Senator Frist and the White House disavowed his statements, saying that they preferred not to say what techniques would or would
not be allowed. That is hardly clarity; it is deliberate confusion.

Into that breach, this legislation throws the administration's solution to all problems: more Presidential power. It allows the administration to promulgate regulations about what conduct would and would not comport with the Geneva Conventions, though it does not require the President to specify which particular techniques can and cannot be used. This is a formula for still fewer checks and balances and for more abuse, secrecy, and power-grabbing. It is a formula for
immunity for past and future abuses by the Executive.

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