Thursday, September 21, 2006

NYT Finally Catches On: Anti-Writ Equals Pro-Torture

Well, I have been blabbering about it for a week (as have others), and now, the New York Times has finally caught on (though I seriously doubt my blabbering has anything to do with it). In a Thursday article by Neil A. Lewis and Kate Zernicke, the Times finally spells out one of the true disgraces contained in each of the supposedly divergent detainee torture/tribunal bills before the Senate. Both the White House version and the Warner/McCain/Graham (additionally co-sponsored by Democrat Carl Levin—shame on you, Sen. Levin) “alternative” contain language that

would bar foreigners held abroad from using the federal trial courts for challenges to detention known as habeas corpus lawsuits. If the provision was enacted, it would mean that all of the lawsuits brought in federal court by about 430 detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, would be wiped from the books.

And, Lewis and Zernicke are good at summing up exactly why court access matters:

The nature of the detention regime at Guantánamo changed markedly as detainees who had been isolated suddenly had access to American lawyers [after a 2004 Supreme Court decision] who were able to provide public accounts of their treatment and defenses to the charges that they were terrorists. The military no longer had exclusive control of information about Guantánamo.

In other words, you cannot be “anti-torture” if you are “anti-writ.” If detainees are denied habeas rights, then they can be held in secret—disappeared, really—and in secret, with no threat that they need ever see the light of day, anything that happens to them can remain secret, too. It is meaningless to grandstand about the importance of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions if you do not defend the habeas rights of all US captives.

Alas, Congressional Democrats have yet to take the moral lead on this issue. While Senator Levin signs on as a co-sponsor to the “compromise” bill, there are, as mentioned in the Times article, House Republicans who are visibly, vocally uncomfortable with the court-stripping (the story of the House Judiciary Committee’s re-vote on the White House language is fascinating in and of itself—and far more sinister than the NYT makes it out to be).

It is not enough for Democrats to cast politically strategic votes on various amendments while quietly rejoicing at signs of Republican infighting. It is both right and smart to vociferously oppose such a severe insult to our justice system and our moral standing. I say, stand up to the White House, stand up for this moral value, and you force opponent Republicans to take sides.

With 63% of Americans in favor of honoring our international treaty obligations in the treatment of prisoners, with a large majority (56% to 35%) of Americans stating that torture is never justified, it would be far from risky—rather, in fact, it would be good politics—to ask each member of Congress (not to mention each member of the Bush Administration): Are you with the American people, or are you with the torturers?

(Have you asked your Senators yet? Write in and let us know—are they with the American people, or are they with the torturers?)

(cross-posted on Daily Kos)


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