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New Rules

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Congress at long last is exercising its critical role as a check and balance on an executive branch run amok in the war against terrorist networks. After the Supreme Court last month declared President Bush’s military commission’s handling of terrorist cases illegal because they were not authorized by Congress and violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions, congressional leaders are now holding hearings this week in prelude to drafting legislation that will mandate the rule of law in the conduct of war.

This week the Senate Judiciary Committee and the House and Senate Armed Services Committees will begin consideration of legislation regarding trying detainees at Guantanamo Bay. In anticipation of those hearings, the Bush administration today announced that it will adhere to the Geneva Conventions by guaranteeing humane treatment of detainees, yet at the same time reiterated that all the detainees had previously been treated humanely. The administration still doesn't get it.

The hearings this week offer Congress the chance to reimpose core American values in the war against terrorism, which in turn will encourage our critical allies in this fight to stay the course. To correct the situation, Congress should swiftly enact legislation that ensures alleged terrorists are brought to justice in a manner that conforms to the fundamental requirements of the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions. This should not be hard to do. Our system of military justice has stood the test of time and enjoys the support of the American people. What’s more, reinstituting our core values will help us win the war against terrorist networks by reaffirming our strategic alliances abroad.

The Supreme Court forcefully declared that the conflict with al-Qaeda falls under the Geneva Conventions, a point made repeatedly by our key allies. The United States is obliged to provide the minimum protections of Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions to any detainee captured in this conflict. Common Article 3 also prohibits “violence to life and person, in particular murder of all kinds, mutilation, cruel treatment and torture,” as well as “outrages upon personal dignity, in particular humiliating and degrading treatment.”

This standard must now apply to detainees held at Guantanamo and to all other captives at secret prisons maintained abroad by the Central Intelligence Agency. Congress should enact legislation that enforces this standard.

For more these recommendations and further analysis and research on these topics please go the following links:

Restoring the Law, by Mark David Agrast, Senior Fellow, Center for American Progress

Upholding the Rule of Law, by Ken Gude, Associate Director of the International Rights and Responsibility Program

After Guantanamo: A Special Tribunal for International Terrorist Suspects

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