A few comments on the recently-passed "Military Commissions Act" (MCA) passed by Congress and on its way to the White House. There are a number of concerns about this bill, not least among them the fact that very few of those in the Senate who voted on it actually read the final version sent to the White House. Three Republican Senators (McCain, Graham, and Warner) objected to the bill as originally written. They worked out a compromise with the White House, and reached agreement on a number of issues that had concerned them. The bill then went into committee to have the differences between the House and Senate versions finalized, and wrote up the actual law that got voted on, then sent to the President for signing.
This was all done in a huge rush (so that the prisoners currently detained could be dealt with in a timely fashion if you believe the White House, or so that it could be used as an election-year club to beat on Democrats with if you believe the President's opponents). The final version of the 200-page bill thus passed without the Senators having time to see what changed in committee.
Shockingly, it turns out that there were some very significant differences between this final version and the "compromise" version these Senatators thought they'd agreed on. Here's Molly Ivins (raving liberal, granted), on what changed:
The version of the detainee bill now in the Senate not only undoes much of the McCain-Warner-Graham work, but it is actually much worse than the administration’s first proposal. In one change, the original compromise language said a suspect had the right to “examine and respond to” all evidence used against him. The three senators said the clause was necessary to avoid secret trials. The bill has now dropped the word “examine” and left only “respond to.”
In another change, a clause said that evidence obtained outside the United States could be admitted in court even if it had been gathered without a search warrant. But the bill now drops the words “outside the United States,” which means prosecutors can ignore American legal standards on warrants.
The bill also expands the definition of an unlawful enemy combatant to cover anyone who has “has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States.” Quick, define “purposefully and materially.” One person has already been charged with aiding terrorists because he sold a satellite TV package that includes the Hezbollah network.
The bill simply removes a suspect’s right to challenge his detention in court. This is a rule of law that goes back to the Magna Carta in 1215. That pretty much leaves the barn door open.
After the bill passed, and the changes were brought to light (conveniently too late, the vote had already happened), McCain has been quoted as saying that he believes the bill is probably unconstitutional.
Another area of concern is whether or not the more egregious portions of the bill apply to US citizens. The language of the bill is, unfortunately, quite ambiguous on this question, as outlined here. I find it reprehensible that the Senate could pass a bill that is unclear on this point. Their obligation -- to you, to me, to the citizens of the United States they are sworn to protect -- is to ensure that they know what they're passing, especially with a bill like this that touches on core issues of our liberty.
Does the MCA apply to US Citizens? Can the President now legally capture US Citizens on the street soley on his say-so that they are unlawful enemy combatants? Nobody really knows for sure, and that is why it is an abomination that this bill passed without even being read. McCain, Warner, and Graham got suckered into thinking they'd won a compromise, only to have the guts of that agreement ripped out in committee, and the resultant law passed without them even knowing what it said.
I don't trust people, and I damn sure don't trust politicians. Giving the Office of the President such broad, ambiguous authority is a huge mistake, regardless of whether it's George Bush or Hillary Clinton who will be in office to wield it. Our laws exist to protect us from abuse by those who wield power -- that is the entire point of the Constitution. Power corrupts, and sidestepping our protections from those in power (whether by accident or on purpose) is about the most foolish thing I can think of. Shame on those Senators who voted for this horrible bill without doing even the minimum necessary to know what they were enacting.