Senate Passes Dictator Law; Bush Attacks Democrats

September 28th, 2006 - by admin

Kate Zernike / New York Times & Jennifer Loven / Associated Press – 2006-09-28 23:37:54

Senate Passes Detainee Bill Sought by President Bush
Kate Zernike / New York Times

WASHINGTON (September 28, 2006) — The Senate approved legislation this evening governing the interrogation and trials of terror suspects, establishing far-reaching new rules in the definition of who may be held and how they should be treated.

The vote, 65-to-34, came after more than 10 hours of often impassioned debate touching on the Constitution, the horrors of Sept. 11 and the nation’s role in the world, but it was also underscored by a measure of politics as Congress prepares to break for the final month of campaigning before closely fought midterm elections.

The legislation sets up rules for the military commissions that will allow the government to prosecute high-level terrorists including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, considered the mastermind of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. It strips detainees of a habeas corpus right to challenge their detentions in court and broadly defines what kind of treatment of detainees is prosecutable as a war crime.

The bill was a compromise between the White House and three Republican senators who had pushed back against what they saw as President Bush’s attempt to rewrite the nation’s obligations under the Geneva Conventions. But while the president had to relent on some of the key specifics, it allowed him to claim victory in achieving one of his main legislative priorities.

“As our troops risk their lives to fight terrorism, this bill will ensure they are prepared to defeat today’s enemies and address tomorrow’s threats,” Mr. Bush said in a statement shortly after the vote.

A similar bill was passed by the House of Representatives on Wednesday by a vote of 253 to 168, and the measure should be ready to go to Mr. Bush by the end of the week for his signature.

Republicans argued that the new rules would provide the necessary tools to fight a new kind of enemy. “Our prior concept of war has been completely altered, as we learned so tragically on September 11th, 2001,” said Senator Saxby Chambliss, Republican of Georgia. “And we must address threats in a different way.”

Democrats argued that the rules were being rushed through for political gain too close to a major election, that they would fundamentally threaten the foundations of the American legal system, and that they would come back to haunt lawmakers as one of the greatest mistakes in history.

“I believe there can be no mercy for those who perpetrated the crimes of 9/11,” said Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton, Democrat of New York. “But in the process of accomplishing what I believe is essential for our security, we must hold onto our values and set an example that we can point to with pride, not shame.”

Twelve Democrats crossed party lines to support the legislation, while one Republican, Senator Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island, opposed it. Senator Olympia J. Snowe, Republican of Maine, did not vote.

Mr. Bush attacked Democrats for voting against the legislation even before the vote began, signaling Republicans’ intention to use it as a hammer in their efforts to portray themselves as the party of strength on national security.

But provisions of the bill came under criticism from Republicans as well as Democrats, with several of them crossing lines on some amendments to the bill that failed along narrow margins.

Among the amendments that failed were one that would have struck the habeas corpus provision, one that would have established a sunset on the legislation to allow Congress to reconsider it in five years, and one that would have require the Central Intelligence Agency to submit to Congressional oversight.

A fourth amendment would have required the State Department to inform other nations of what interrogation techniques it considers illegal for use on American troops, a move intended to prompt the administration to say publicly what techniques it considers out of bounds.

Senator Carl M. Levin of Michigan, the senior Democrat on the Armed Services Committee, argued that the habeas corpus provision “is as legally abusive of the rights guaranteed in the Constitution as the actions at Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo and secret prisons were physically abusive of detainees.”

And even some Republicans who said voted for the bill said they expected the Supreme Court to strike down the legislation because of the habeas corpus provision, ultimately sending the legislation right back to Congress.

“We should have done it right, because we’re going to have to do it again,” said Senator Gordon Smith, a Republican from Oregon, who had voted to strike the habeas corpus provision, yet supported the bill.

The legislation broadens the definition of enemy combatants beyond the traditional definition used in wartime, to include noncitizens living legally in this country as well as those in foreign countries, and also anyone determined to be an enemy combatant under criteria defined by the president or secretary of defense.

It strips detainees being held at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, of a habeas right to challenge their detention in court, relying instead on procedures known as combatant status review trials, which have looser rules of evidence than the courts.

It allows evidence seized in this country or abroad to be taken without a search warrant. It bars evidence obtained by cruel and inhumane treatment, except that obtained before Dec, 30, 2005, when Congress enacted the Detainee Treatment Act. Democrats charged that the date was set conveniently after the worst abuses at the Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq and at Guantánamo Bay.

The legislation establishes several “grave breaches” of Common Article Three of the Geneva Conventions that are felonies under the War Crimes Act, including torture, rape, murder and any act intended to cause “serious” physical or mental pain or suffering.

It leaves to the president the definition of specific interrogation techniques and rules barring any techniques that do not rise to the level of grave breaches.

The issue was sent to Congress as a result of a Supreme Court decision in June that struck down military tribunals the Bush administration had established shortly after the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. The court ruled that the tribunals violated the Constitution, and it upended the president’s claim that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to the war on terror.

The White House submitted another bill in early September, setting off weeks of intraparty fighting as the three Senate Republicans, John Warner of Virginia, John McCain of Arizona, and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, insisted they would not support a provision that in any way appeared to alter the nation’s commitments under Geneva.

Bush Criticizes Democrats on Terror War
Jennifer Loven / Associated Press

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (September 28, 2006) ± President Bush suggested Thursday that Democrats don’t have the stomach to fight the war on terror, battling back in the election-season clamor over administration intelligence showing terrorism spreading.

“Five years after 9/11, the worst attack on the American homeland in our history, Democrats offer nothing but criticism and obstruction and endless second-guessing,” Bush said at a Republican fundraiser.

“The party of FDR and the party of Harry Truman has become the party of cut and run,” Bush told a convention-center audience of over 2,000 people. The event put $2.5 million in the campaign accounts of Alabama Gov. Bob Riley and the state GOP.

Democrats immediately disputed the charge that they would hold back in the anti-terror battle.

“On his watch, five years after 9/11, he not only has failed to capture Osama bin Laden, but as the (National Intelligence Estimate) indicates, his failed policies have made America less safe and spawned terrorism, not decreased it,” said Karen Finney, spokeswoman for the Democratic National Committee. “Democrats will be tough and smart, and will actually fight the terrorists, not leave them to plan future attacks.”

Bush’s no-holds-barred speech, one of his harshest yet on the campaign trail, came less than six weeks before midterm elections in which Democrats are seeking to strip Republicans of their control of one or both houses of Congress.

The war of words continued a nearly weeklong tussle by both parties over the implications of a newly revealed estimate, an analysis of terror trends put together by the nation’s top intelligence analysts in 16 spy agencies.

The document concluded that Iraq has become a “cause celebre” for jihadists worldwide, whom it said have grown in number and geographic reach. The report said the factors, such as the Iraq war, that are fueling the jihadist movement’s growth outweigh its vulnerabilities and that, if the current trend continues, risks to the U.S. interests at home and abroad will grow.

Portions of the five-month-old report were leaked over the weekend, and Bush ordered the key judgments – four of its 30 pages – declassified on Tuesday in hopes that wider availability of most conclusions would quell the criticism.

continued to point to the report to argue that the 2003 Iraq invasion, by fanning anti-U.S. sentiments and helping terrorists recruit, is one reason to change leadership in Congress.

On Thursday, Bush accused the opposition party of cherrypicking pieces of the report “for partisan political gain” and “to mislead the American people and justify their policy of withdrawal from Iraq.”

“The greatest danger is not that America’s presence in the war in Iraq is drawing new recruits to the terrorist cause,” Bush said. “The greatest danger is that an American withdrawal from Iraq would embolden the terrorists and help them find new recruits to carry out even more destructive attacks.”

Though not by name, he quoted Rep. Jane Harman of California, top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, as saying that because of the Iraq war “it may become more likely” that the US will have to contend with terrorists on its own soil again, rather than less likely as the president argues. And he quoted Sen. Jay Rockefeller of West Virginia, top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, as saying the world would be better off without the Iraq war and if former Iraqi leader Saddam Hussein were still in power.

“Some in Washington, some decent people, patriotic people, feel like we should not be on the offensive in this war on terror,” the president said. “We will fight them wherever they make a stand.”

The president also criticized House Democrats, including their leadership, who voted this week against a White House plan for interrogating, detaining and trying terrorists. “We must give our professionals the tools they need to protect the American people in this war on terror and those in the House of Representatives were wrong to vote against this bill,” he said.

Democrats, joined by some Republicans, say the legislation would give the president too much latitude when deciding whether aggressive interrogations cross the line and violate international standards of prisoner treatment.

Bush headed from Alabama to Ohio to raise $600,000 for the Ohio GOP and Rep. Deborah Pryce, who is struggling to hold on to her seat in an evenly split district and stressing her independence from the president.

That fundraiser was held behind closed doors – like most that Bush does lately.

By Thursday’s end, the president had headlined 68 political events – all fundraisers – benefiting 37 candidates, the national GOP, several state counterparts and the campaign arms of House and Senate Republicans. Half of them overall have been closed to media coverage, with the percentage going up to nearly two-thirds in recent months.

The only one of the president’s six political events this week that was open was the fundraiser for Riley, who is favored for re-election over his challenger, Democratic Lt. Gov. Lucy Baxley.

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