Opposition to Dangerous Detainee Bill Grows

President claims his bill is necessary to "clarify" the rules for interrogations and protect classified information. Both claims are spurious.

In the final days before the congressional adjournment, Sens. Warner, McCain, and Graham continue to press their alternative to the administration’s detainee treatment legislation. While the Warner-McCain bill is far from perfect, these senators deserve enormous credit for holding the line against administration efforts to legalize the CIA’s use of grossly inhumane interrogation methods that violate the Geneva Conventions and our own constitutional standards.

The Warner-McCain bill upholds the honor and integrity of the military justice system against administration efforts to allow the use of evidence obtained by inhumane methods and deny the accused the fundamental right to challenge the evidence used against them.

The president claims that his legislation is necessary to “clarify” the rules for interrogations and protect classified information. Both claims are spurious.

Military lawyers agree that the Geneva Conventions are unambiguous, and military courts have long been adept at protecting national security information in the course of military trials. The real issue is whether America will continue to uphold the rules that protect our own troops and those of every nationality who are captured in armed conflicts.

Opposition to the administration bill continues to grow. The Senate Armed Services Committee approved the Warner-McCain bill last week. Its counterpart in the House rubber-stamped the administration bill as expected, but the House Judiciary Committee came within a single vote on Wednesday of defeating the administration bill and replacing it with the Warner-McCain alternative. This development calls into question whether the administration measure has sufficient Republican support to pass the House.

Five former Chairmen of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, including General Colin Powell, who served as President Bush’s first Secretary of State, have declared their opposition to the administration bill and their support for the efforts of Warner and McCain. Dozens of retired military commanders have echoed their views, including former Judge Advocates General who—unlike the current JAGs—are free to speak their minds.

The Warner-McCain bill is vastly preferable to the administration’s version, but it too is seriously flawed. Its definition of “enemy combatant“ is so sweeping that it would permit the president to detain non-citizens who pose no actual threat to the United States and try them before military commissions. Like the administration bill, Warner-McCain would also deny those who are wrongly detained any meaningful access to judicial redress.

It is highly unlikely that these serious defects can be corrected before Congress adjourns or that any sensible legislation on this subject can be enacted in the current political climate. It would be far better for Congress to put the issue on hold until passions have cooled and to take the time to get it right.

Read Statement from the Center for American Progress:

Read the letter sent today to the Senate, and this letter sent to the House by the Center for American Progress Action Fund to members of the House and Senate expressing concerns about this legislation.

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