the signing of the military commissions act and what it means

Today, President Bush signed the Military Commissions Act into law. Bush called it a “vital tool” in the war against terrorism. Others strongly disagree. Here’s a quote from ACLU executive director, Anthony D. Romero:

“With his signature, President Bush enacts a law that is both unconstitutional and un-American. This president will be remembered as the one who undercut the hallmark of habeas in the name of the war on terror. Nothing separates America more from our enemies than our commitment to fairness and the rule of law, but the bill signed today is an historic break because it turns Guant

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  1. Shanster
    Posted October 18, 2006 at 6:01 am | Permalink

    Apparently, this is the answer to “Who would Jesus torture?”: Unlawful enemy combatants.

    Essentially, I think this is the two wrongs DO make a right argument. Since they aren’t fighting fair, we don’t have to fight fair. Isn’t “Terrorism” by definition an unlawful enemy combatant group, since they don’t have a uniform. We have declared war on ‘them’ but they are an ineligible opponent.

    I’ll drink one with you…Prost! Zum Wohl!

  2. ol' e cross
    Posted October 18, 2006 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    If the Supreme Court does its job then all’s well with the Constitution. If not, well then we’re Consitutionally bound to join these guys. On the plus side, I hear you get to make up cool code names. From here on out, Ol E’ Cross will be known as SLEDGEMONKEYALPHA.

  3. ol' e cross
    Posted October 18, 2006 at 8:18 am | Permalink

    If the Supreme Court does its job then all’s well with the Constitution. If not, well then we’re Consitutionally bound to join these guys. On the plus side, I hear you get to make up cool code names. From here on out, Ol E’ Cross will be known as SLEDGEMONKEYALPHA.

  4. Dr Cherry
    Posted October 18, 2006 at 9:38 am | Permalink

    Habeas Corpus has been one of the cornerstones of western civilization since 1215. Since the American people no longer recognize it’s significance, I suppose they don’t deserve it’s protection.

    As a civilization, we had 791 years of protection from our own governments. It was a good run. I’ve been saying for some time that we are in the twilight of “The Great Experiment” and we are winesses to the Death of the American Dream. So now it’s back to tyranny for the now 300 million “pathetic, fearful little people” that populate this beautiful country.

    A little on the hisory of Habeas Corpus from the BBC:

    The Habeas Corpus Act passed by Parliament in 1679 guaranteed this right in law, although its origins go back much further, probably to Anglo-Saxon times.

    Sir William Blackstone, who wrote his famous Commentaries on the Laws of England in the 18th Century, recorded the first use of habeas corpus in 1305. But other writs with the same effect were used in the 12th Century, so it appears to have preceded Magna Carta in 1215.

    Its original use was more straightforward – a writ to bring a prisoner into court to testify in a pending trial. But what began as a weapon for the king and the courts became – as the political climate changed – protection for the individual against arbitrary detention by the state.

  5. Dr Cherry
    Posted October 18, 2006 at 9:52 am | Permalink

    SLEDGEMONKEYALPHA, don’t talk about fight club.

  6. egpenet
    Posted October 18, 2006 at 9:57 am | Permalink

    Terrorism has always been considered a crime … not an act of war. The Brits have done OK using internal assets to infiltrate and combat their home-grown vigilantes … toughening their laws, but NOT doing away with habeus corpus.

    Our government is wrong to do this … and the Dems who voted for the War Powers Act and now this, including Debbie Sabenow, are wrong. I will not accept their excuses that “the war was mismanaged.” And I will not accept their excuses in the weeks and months ahead, when they “complain” that the President overstepped his authority.

    They don’t care. They’re getting their salaries and pensions, provided they survive the midterms. So … why sweat it? In the meantime, those of us on the streets are vulnerable now to any simple complaint that we have been too friendly to the guy behind the glass at the BP station or overtipped the waiter at LaShish or have been passing love notes to the cute co-ed wearing a veil at WCC.

    Habeus corpus will still apply to us as full citizens … but we could still end up in a dark CIA hole for the first few weeks, until someone noticed we hadn’t shown up for a neighborhood meeting. But for anyone on a visa or for resident aliens … it’s over.

    Shame on you Debbie! Shame.

  7. ol' e cross
    Posted October 18, 2006 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    So I read the bill, it seems pretty clear it doesn’t apply to U.S. citizens.

    I’m curious how, specifically, it’s supposed to make us more vulnerable to being spirited away in the black vans today than we were a month ago?

    As someone friendly with a lot non-citizen middle easteners, I fear for them and oppose the bill but it really doesn’t seem like the president can now, under this bill, declare me an enemy combatant and strip me of my rights…

  8. ol' e cross
    Posted October 18, 2006 at 11:26 am | Permalink

    So I read the bill, it seems pretty clear it doesn’t apply to U.S. citizens.

    I’m curious how, specifically, it’s supposed to make us more vulnerable to being spirited away in the black vans today than we were a month ago?

    As someone friendly with a lot non-citizen middle easteners, I fear for them and oppose the bill but it really doesn’t seem like the president can now, under this bill, declare me an enemy combatant and strip me of my rights…

  9. Ted Glass
    Posted October 18, 2006 at 11:48 am | Permalink

    It was my understanding, after having read it, that a US citizen “could” be designated an Enemy Combatant.

  10. Dr Cherry
    Posted October 18, 2006 at 1:01 pm | Permalink

    I’m curious how, specifically, it’s supposed to make us more vulnerable to being spirited away in the black vans today than we were a month ago?

    The bill allows the executive branch to declare anyome an “enemy combatant”, including citizens.

    The white house says “they [citizens] get some extra judicial protections in that case.” But these aren’t spelled out anywhere in the bill.

    From an NPR article:

    The legislation that Congress passed does not say enemy combatants are people who “take up arms on the side of al-Qaida.” The bill instead refers to people who provide “material support” to the enemy. The language of the bill says that is the standard for both citizens and non-citizens. But Berenson says that’s not how the administration will apply it.

    Here’s a good article discussing:

    Bill Lets U.S. Citizens Be Held as Enemy Combatants:

  11. Dr Cherry
    Posted October 18, 2006 at 1:04 pm | Permalink

    PS: providing “material support” could be, for example, a donation you made to a charity before the war started.

    They’ve used the same logic on non-citizens.

  12. ol' e cross
    Posted October 18, 2006 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the info and link Dr. C., but I still can

  13. ol' e cross
    Posted October 18, 2006 at 1:49 pm | Permalink

    Thanks for the info and link Dr. C., but I still can

  14. Dr Cherry
    Posted October 18, 2006 at 2:42 pm | Permalink

    I don’t think anyone was arguing that Military Commissions created under the act would have jurisdiction over citizen enemy combatants. (Sec. 948d.) They wouldn’t and this is a huge problem. No court or commission would have jurisdiction over them legally. (IE they wouldn’t have access to the courts and no defined due process.)

    This bill is supposed to outline the rights of enemy combatants but doesn’t provide for American enemy combatants’ due process at all. This is where the assurances from the White house come in.

    American citizens deemed enemy combatants wouldn’t have to be brought to trial at all, according to this act, they could be detained indefinitely, tortured, or sent to other countries; whatever the President wants. The act allows the denial of habeas corpus petitions for all enemy combatants.

    In short, it legalizes the “Jos

  15. DM
    Posted October 18, 2006 at 2:50 pm | Permalink

    The president has presented a pretty embarrasing situation. It seems pretty clear now that his administration has committed a war crime. That leaves our government with the choice of prosecuting him under the War Crimes Act ( which was passed in 1996 most likely to avoid potential prosecution by an international court for war crimes) or by finding a way out for him. The Military Commissions Act seems to be less about future prosecutions than it is about retroactive ass covering- but I am speaking loosely with little snippets of info. It is just how it appears on the surface to me. It appears to be an attempt to save face.

    If I am right, I think that the saddest part of all this is that the US has lost its moral authority ( I know, assuming we ever had it to begin with). How is that for irony? From the city on the hill to a slum in 6 years. Good job fellas.

    Again, I ask- What is to stop an international court from bringing Bush administration members to trial for violations of the Geneva Coventions? What kind of language is in there that may put a stopper to this event?

  16. Dr Cherry
    Posted October 18, 2006 at 2:51 pm | Permalink

  17. edweird
    Posted October 18, 2006 at 3:02 pm | Permalink

    Dude, we are fuct!

  18. Dr Cherry
    Posted October 18, 2006 at 3:12 pm | Permalink

    shhhhhhh. The meeting’s in the basement.

  19. OK
    Posted October 18, 2006 at 3:13 pm | Permalink

    According to the article Dr. Cherry links to, citizens can be detained, but cannot be tried…hence they could theoretically be detained forever. I assume that “citizens” includes former presidents as well? Perhaps this cloud has an ironic lining, at least in the long term. A case could probably be made that Bush himself has more connections to terrorism than many of the already-disappeared. Does he understand that he won’t always get to be president? (Or is that part of future legislation?)

  20. ol' e cross
    Posted October 18, 2006 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Dr. C,


  21. ol' e cross
    Posted October 18, 2006 at 3:20 pm | Permalink

    Dr. C,


  22. oliva
    Posted October 18, 2006 at 3:37 pm | Permalink

    From yesterday’s (17 Oct. 2006) press briefing–as if we don’t have enough to sob about already. And Mark’s right that we let this happen. Such a nightmare. How to proceed with vigor and effectiveness immediately?

    * * *

    MR. SNOW: . . . What I’m saying is that they are subject to laws. What you’re saying is, if we can’t look over their shoulders, how do we know the law applies.

    Q Exactly. How do you — how can you enforce the law if you —

    MR. SNOW: Well, again, because you do have accountability. You have outside actors looking in on every juncture. It is built in. And therefore, there are measures that are taken within this.

    Q Who are the outside actors?

    MR. SNOW: They are independent of the questioning that’s going on. But they’ve also been trained in taking a look at what the proper guidelines are for interrogation under the law, trying to make sure that people do not go beyond the boundaries of a proper interrogation.

    Q You won’t say who they are —

    MR. SNOW: These are people who work for the federal government who are charged with doing it.

    Q They’re not independent if they’re working for the federal government.

    MR. SNOW: They’re independent of the questioning. Let me — well, never mind. Go ahead.

    Q No, what were you going to say?

    MR. SNOW: No, it’s — it would be snarky, and that’s not worthy of me.

    Q Oh, come on.

    Q Do you expect this law to end up back in the Supreme Court —

    MR. SNOW: No. I mean, our legal team spent a great deal of time working hard on this. One of the reasons you didn’t have, for instance, a signing statement is that we think it all passed constitutional muster. And the people who worked on it have worked very hard. So we’ll see.

    Q It was already under challenge even before it’s been signed.

    MR. SNOW: Well, then, in that case, it will end up before a court, but we’ll see what the courts say.

    Q Do you think — this has been described as a compromise. The President basically got everything he wanted, didn’t he?

    MR. SNOW: Pretty much, yes.

  23. Tony Buttons Esq.
    Posted October 18, 2006 at 3:51 pm | Permalink

    If it’s any help, you could tell you friend to eat me, Ole E.C.

  24. Tony Buttons Esq.
    Posted October 18, 2006 at 3:54 pm | Permalink

    And we are all doomed. It’s going to take a hell of a long time, and my lives will be lost getting us back to where we were when Bush took office. And it may not happen in the lifetime of anyone reading this today. Civil rights are much easier lost than gained.

  25. oliva
    Posted October 18, 2006 at 4:49 pm | Permalink

    “citizen or not . . .”

    See Olbermann show transcripts from 17 Oct. 2006:

    “On Tuesday, ‘Countdown’ host Keith Olbermann talked to Jonathan Turley, a constitutional law professor at George Washington University about a new bill signed by President Bush that redefines the right of habeas corpus”:

  26. Dr Cherry
    Posted October 18, 2006 at 5:37 pm | Permalink


    Again you illustrate where the act defines the rights of aliens. These sections do not apply to American Citizens held under this act so they’re not really germane to what the rules are for Americans.

    Given that habeas corpus already applies to citizens, it would seem that unless this act specifically removes that right, citizens would be prosectued under the treason laws found in Sec. 3 of the Constitution: Treason against the United States, shall consist only in levying War against them, or in adhering to their Enemies, giving them Aid and Comfort.

    Correct. That what the white house is promising but why omit the language protecting Americans? And if this was their intention why did they treat Jos

  27. oliva
    Posted October 18, 2006 at 6:11 pm | Permalink

    That “trust us” brings heart-crushingly back to mind Hillary Clinton’s speech on the Senate floor justifying her yes vote giving Bush authority to use force against Iraq on 10 Oct. 2002:

    Even though the resolution before the Senate is not as strong as I would like in requiring the diplomatic route first and placing highest priority on a simple, clear requirement for unlimited inspections, I will take the President at his word that he will try hard to pass a UN resolution and will seek to avoid war, if at all possible.

    Because bipartisan support for this resolution makes success in the United Nations more likely, and therefore, war less likely, and because a good faith effort by the United States, even if it fails, will bring more allies and legitimacy to our cause, I have concluded, after careful and serious consideration, that a vote for the resolution best serves the security of our nation. If we were to defeat this resolution or pass it with only a few Democrats, I am concerned that those who want to pretend this problem will go way with delay will oppose any UN resolution calling for unrestricted inspections.

    This is a very difficult vote. This is probably the hardest decision I have ever had to make — any vote that may lead to war should be hard — but I cast it with conviction.

    . . . My vote is not, however, a vote for any new doctrine of pre-emption, or for uni-lateralism, or for the arrogance of American power or purpose — all of which carry grave dangers for our nation, for the rule of international law and for the peace and security of people throughout the world.

    . . . So it is with conviction that I support this resolution as being in the best interests of our nation. A vote for it is not a vote to rush to war; it is a vote that puts awesome responsibility in the hands of our President and we say to him – use these powers wisely and as a last resort. And it is a vote that says clearly to Saddam Hussein – this is your last chance – disarm or be disarmed.

    Thank you, Mr. President.

    Formal nicety though it be, that last line is particularly painful and ironic.

  28. egpenet
    Posted October 18, 2006 at 7:37 pm | Permalink

    Example #1 …

    Years ago, while living in A2, I hung a green and white stripped ecology flag on my front porch. It resembled the stars and stripes, but with stripes and the universal ecology “e” symbol where the stars would be.

    I was young then, and had several very healthy but illegal plants growing in my dining room windows.

    One afternoon, two guys in suits rang my doorbell. FBI. They had “complaints” about desecrating an American flag at my address …something about bleaching the red, white and blue and re-dying it green and white, removing all 50 stars and replacing them with a mysterious letter “e” symbol.

    I did not let them in, but explained that I was a fabric artist at the time and that it would be chemically and practically impossible to do that. “There it is, gentlemen. Take it if you’d like. But no one has desecrated a flag at this address.”

    They took the flag and disappeared. No entry and no horticultural nightmare.

    A neighbor called to complain.

    Say that a neighbor doesn’t like your dog … or your garden … or your kids … or you. All they have to do is say over the phone, anonymously, I might add, that you are “always having hush-hush political conversations at the BP and even saying aloud that … blah, blah, blah.” I swear you’ll get on “the list” and perhaps a knock on your door.

    If you are a citizen and you are taken in … you could very well disappear (welcome to Chile, senor) into a hole. Can you spell Padilla? Where will your wife tell your attorney where to look for you? Who took you? Where did whomever take you? It will be weeks or months. THEN, you may be tracked down and a writ filed on your behalf. MAYBE.

    God bless America.

  29. egpenet
    Posted October 18, 2006 at 7:41 pm | Permalink

    Is Ypsi-Dixit right? Should I just carve a pumpkin and read a book and forget all of this? Ye gads!

  30. mark
    Posted October 18, 2006 at 9:57 pm | Permalink

    Yes. Listen to the Oracle of Ypsilanti and carve your pumpkins.

    Seriously, this shit scares the hell out of me, and, while I understand the motivation for it, it bothers me that our discussion here is primarily about whether or not “we” can be swept up, carried away, and subjected to torture. The fact that it could happen to citizens of any other nation in the world, or our neighbors who, while not citizens, have lived here among us for their entire adult lives, doesn’t seem to matter. What matters is that this won’t effect us that were born here in the U.S., and that’s a slippery fucking slope.

    Yes, I take some comfort in knowing that it might be more difficult for me as a U.S. citizen to be picked up and hauled away without recourse, but I know that every inch we give we make it more likely that more will be taken. I know for a certainly that American citizens will be held as enemy combatants. And, even if they weren’t, that doesn’t make legislation allowing it to happen to others right.

  31. mark
    Posted October 18, 2006 at 9:58 pm | Permalink

    Thank you all for the comments. This has been incredibly instructive…. And I plan to move the Olberman transcript to the front page.

  32. Dr Cherry
    Posted October 18, 2006 at 11:47 pm | Permalink

    mark, of course it’s outrageous to detain and torture citizens of other countires. Of course it’s wrong that we don’t give allow them the protection of habeas corpus.

    I think the rights of an average american might be a good bellwether. But you’re right, the policy on detaining enemy combatants is whack.

  33. oliva
    Posted October 19, 2006 at 5:00 pm | Permalink


    I’ve been wondering if you ever found out which neighbor it was who complained to the feds about your Ecology flag.

    I know time has passed, but if that person is still around, maybe we could drop by with enemy combatant pumpkins carrying Peace flags and offer up a “Trick or Treat”?

  34. egpenet
    Posted October 19, 2006 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    My house in A2 at the time was across from Lurie Terrace on West Huron, mostly senior citizens. A series of several mysterious fires, mostly ascribed to electrical issues have since (over the last 25 years) cursed the structure.

    No need for any assistance, thanks. There’s been a complete turnover (in the graves) of most of the residents of those days.

    At night, we were digging bomb craters in front yards, creating dead people silhouettes on the siderwalks and on the sides of buildings, and driving Sheriff Harvey nuts … we had OUR day.

    Questions you youngstwers have to answer today is how to WAKE UP YOUR NEIGHBORS! Get’em off their butts on these important issues. Go vote! Get involved! Why watch reality TV when there’s more than enough reality to deal with in our town, state and country? As Bach put it: “Wacht Auf!”

  35. oliva
    Posted October 19, 2006 at 8:14 pm | Permalink

    To think that the show Survivor came along before Bush took office–and is still on–so that Americans with flexible schedules could venture to faraway lands to experience desperation and hardship and cut-throat meanness . . .

    Ugh, I’m at a loss for words–but I wanted to say something about firefighters and office workers and others in NYC; hungry and fearful people in Darfur and Afghanistan; terrified and angry people in Iraq . . .

    “Reality TV” is an ironic concept indeed. Chillingly so.

  36. OK
    Posted October 20, 2006 at 2:15 pm | Permalink

    Yeah, I’ve often wondered if “reality TV” is what did the trick as far as weakening our collective standards on what passes for reality and truth these days.

  37. egpenet
    Posted October 20, 2006 at 7:55 pm | Permalink

    olive & OK:

    The outline is simple …

    1 – A crisis … 9/11
    2 – People pull together … Bush says: “Let’s roll!”
    3 – Bush then lies … They’re (Taliban) not the problem, Saddam is hiding WMD.
    4 – The people buy the lie.
    5 – War begins and laws are suspended.
    6 – Repeat of the same old story.

    The history is simple …

    1 – A crisis … starvation in Germany after WWI.
    2 – People pull together … Hitler says: “I can fix this.” (Even Hindenburg buys in.)
    3 – Hitler lies: “I know know who did this … non-Aryans (Jews, Gays, Gypsies, Catholic and other liberals, and the bolshevicks.”
    4 – The people buy the lie.
    5 – Military build-up begins. Hitler mobilizes the youth and the SS. Laws are suspended. Unilateral invasions begin in central Europe. Ghettos and death camps fill to capacity. And the allies eventually declare war.
    6 – Same old story.

    And by the way …

    Friday … today … 10/20 … it is reported that an American citizen in Iraq, Mohammed Musaf … has been detained by the Iraqi military … without protest from the coalition forces (read: American Government) … and charged with aiding the enemy, which is punishable by death. There will be no habeus corpus, no court trial, and his death is almost certain. Are we counting yet? Is Mohammed the first? I don’t think so. May he rest in peace.

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