Chance to have input

The web site democrats.com has a straw poll on the issues of most concern to those who have registered with their site. The site is not the official site of the Democratic Party, but is one affiliate of a loose conglomerate that includes / began with the afterdowningstreet.org site.

I am impressed that the top vote-getter of the many choices is restoring the powers involved in using a writ of habeas corpus in the United States Courts. The next most frequently endorsed is establishing a higher minimum wage. Also in the top four is ending the war in Iraq.

Otherwise, I have to say, this straw poll, with its legitimate choices, is a device of the “impeach George Bush and Dick Cheney” element, not those in newly elected congressional Democrats who are dedicating their efforts to governing the country.

This list does provide an assemblage of priorities that would be helpful to use in a letter to your congressperson, and to the new leadership of Congress. I am not assuming that you are a committed Democrat; some very important issues cross party lines and are of concern to conservatives as well as liberals.

I am also not completely disavowing the effort to impeach Bush and Cheney; I look at this long list as a potential agenda that can be delayed or even swamped by an impeachment circus. Both justice and governance are necessary and desirable. Governance looks to be the more politically possible.

Torture is going under – for a little while

The following post is appearing out of sequence, and should have followed the post that consisted of a long letter to a constitutuent from the office of US Senator Arlen Specter. Specter’s letter is the full documentation for the excerpt that appears here.

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I cannot do better in this post than to quote from a long form letter sent to me by Arlen Specter, Senator from Pennsylvania and Chair of the Judiciary Committee. The Military Commissions Act, recently signed into law by President Bush, has one bad provision, according to Specter. That is, the denial to prisoners (“detainees”) of the use of a habeas corpus petition to challenge their detention. U. S. Courts recognized that use until December of 2005, which allowed for Hamdan v. Rumsfeld to be heard and decided. <>So I think, or more emotionally, I fear, that Senator Specter is a bit ingenuous in the following paragraphs from his letter:

In the June 2006 Supreme Court decision Hamdan v. Rumsfeld , the Court held that military commissions used in prosecuting enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay must be authorized by Congress and must obey the legal obligations of the Geneva Conventions’ Common Article III and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The decision explicitly urged Congress to legislate a solution by properly establishing military commissions to try alien unlawful enemy combatants.

Following the Hamdan decision, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee worked with President Bush to craft legislation to establish military tribunals. I generally supported the legislation dra fted by these Senators and the a dministration, however, I had serious reservations about a provision in the bill which eliminated detainees’ right to habeas corpus. Habeas corpus is the right of those in custody to challenge their detainment in court. As Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I held a hearing on September 25, 2006 to specifically address habeas corpus for Guantanamo detainees. During the Senate’s consideration of the legislation, I offered an amendment which would have guaranteed habeas\ncorpus for detainees. Unfortunately, the amendment failed on a narrow 48-51 vote.

On September 28, 2006 the Senate passed the Military Commissions Act by a vote of 65-34. Although my amendment was rejected, I voted in favor of the bill because I believe without this legislation, the ability of our government to effectively fight the global war on terrorism would be hindered. I am confident the courts will address the legislation’s constitutionality by ruling on the provision limiting habeas corpus.

The Military Commission Act is consistent with previous legislation prohibiting torture. The bill stipulates the military commissions must be established in accordance with the Uniform Code of Military Justice and Common Article III of the Geneva Conventions. Finally, it establishes specific guidelines for the use of hearsay evidence and coerced testimony and the handling of classified information.

During the Senate’s consideration of the legislation, I offered an amendment which would have guaranteed habeas corpus for detainees. Unfortunately, the amendment failed on a narrow 48-51 vote.

On September 28, 2006 the Senate passed the Military Commissions Act by a vote of 65-34. Although my amendment was rejected, I voted in favor of the bill because I believe without this legislation, the ability of our government to effectively fight the g lobal war on terrorism would be hindered. I am confident the courts will address the legislation’s constitutionality by ruling on the provision limiting habeas corpus.

United States Senator Arlen Specter, Chair of the Judiciary Committee, form letter/email, dated October 25, 2006, “regarding the treatment of prisoners detained by the United States in connection with the global war on terrorism.” Full contents uploaded to this blog, available in the post below.

As the excerpt shows, the topic is, in truth, the Military Commissions Act, signed into law by President George W. Bush in the third week of October, 2006.

Text of Arlen Specter letter/email of October 25, 2006

Emailed letter “Dear Friend” dated October 25, 2006.

——— Forwarded message ———-
From: Senator_Specter@specter.senate.gov <Senator_Specter@specter.senate.gov>
Date: Oct 25, 2006 10:09 AM
Subject: Re: Demand Fair Trials for Guantanamo Detainees
To: petersig@gmail.com

<>Dear Friend : <>
Thank you for contacting my office regarding the treatment of prisoners detained by the United States in connection with the global war on terrorism. I appreciate hearing from you. <>
The United States has no higher priority than the war against terrorism. In the course of this struggle, we must make every effort to detain those who engage in acts of terrorism and to obtain information from detainees that will enable us to prevent future attacks. At the same time, it is imperative we wage the war in a way that upholds the values the United States has always advanced, making clear by our actions and our example that we stand for freedom and fairness. <>
In the June 2006 Supreme Court decision Hamdan v. Rumsfeld , the Court held that military commissions used in prosecuting enemy combatants at Guantanamo Bay must be authorized by Congress and must obey the legal obligations of the Geneva Conventions’ Common Article III and the Uniform Code of Military Justice. The decision explicitly urged Congress to legislate a solution by properly establishing military commissions to try alien unlawful enemy combatants. <>
Following the Hamdan decision, members of the Senate Armed Services Committee worked with President Bush to craft legislation to establish military tribunals. I generally supported the legislation dra fted by these Senators and the a dministration, however, I had serious reservations about a provision in the bill which eliminated detainees’ right to habeas corpus. Habeas corpus is the right of those in custody to challenge their detainment in court. As Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, I held a hearing on September 25, 2006 to specifically address habeas corpus for Guantanamo detainees. During the Senate’s consideration of the legislation, I offered an amendment which would have guaranteed habeas corpus for detainees. Unfortunately, the amendment failed on a narrow 48-51 vote. <>
On September 28, 2006 the Senate passed the Military Commissions Act by a vote of 65-34. Although my amendment was rejected, I voted in favor of the bill because I believe without this legislation, the ability of our government to effectively fight the g lobal war on terrorism would be hindered. I am confident the courts will address the legislation’s constitutionality by ruling on the provision limiting habeas corpus. <>
The Military Commission Act is consistent with previous legislation prohibiting torture. The bill stipulates the military commissions must be established in accordance with the Uniform Code of Military Justice and Common Article III of the Geneva Conventions. Finally, it establishes specific guidelines for the use of hearsay evidence and coerced testimony and the handling of classified information. <>
As a member of the United States Senate, I have a consistent record of voting to ensure we adhere to the same values we fight to protect. On October 5, 2005, I voted in favor of an amendment introduced by Senator John McCain to the Fiscal Year 2006 Department of Defense Appropriations Act prohibiting “cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment” of detainees. This amendment passed on a 90-9 vote in the Senate and was signed into law by President Bush on December 30, 2005. During consideration of the Fiscal Year 2005 Defense Authorization Act, I supported an amendment offered by Senator Leahy that stated it is policy of the United States to treat prisoners in its control humanely. Furthermore, I cosponsored an amendment offered by Senator Durbin reaffirming prisoners of war and enemy combatants must not be tortured or treated inhumanely. In light of the abuses at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq , I cosponsored the Senate resolution that condemned the abuse of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib and called for a full and complete investigation to ensure justice is served. <>
On June 25, 2003, I wrote to National Security Advisor Condoleezza Rice expressing my concern over the mistreatment of enemy combatants in the custody of the United States . Our reputation has been significantly marred by the abuse of some detainees. The images and stories appearing in both the American, and perhaps more significantly, the Arab and international media have the potential to damage America ‘s standing as the unquestioned champion of human rights and the rule of law. <>
I believe the United States should make it clear that all interrogations of enemy combatants are conducted in a manner consistent with our obligations under the “Convention Against Torture and Other Forms of Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.” This treaty, ratified by the United States , provides the most widely accepted definition of torture and other forms of unlawful mistreatment. <>
Thank you again for contacting me. The concerns of my constituents are of great importance to me, and I rely on you and other Pennsylvanians to inform me of your views. Should you have any further questions, please do not hesitate to contact my office or visit my website at http://specter.senate.gov .

Sincerely,

 

<> Arlen Specter

Reason and Responsibility

I started this blog in order to be able to reason about torture; specifically, the U.S. involvement in torture. Then I did not frame a post about the topic, partly because it had disappeared from my news feeds. That disappearance is able covered by Eric Umansky, formerly editor of the “Today’s Papers” feature in the online newspaper, Slate. Eric has published a thoughtful piece, “Failures of Imagination” in the Columbia Journalism Review that disentangles that lack of news about torture by the United States.

He has also put a banner on his blog that leads one to the PostGlobal blog at the Washington Post, where there is currently a discussion about torture, in general, and in U.S. specifics.

The title of my blog, Undoing Denial, references more than the mental processes of a middle-of-the-roader. It expresses to me the denial of U.S. involvement in torture at Abu Ghraib, Guantana/mo, and undisclosed locations outside U.S. territory.

The following is my response on responsibility for torture, to the current question on the PostGlobal blog, and to Eric Umansky’s post “Deconstructing Bush.” In this short piece you will find my reading of this week’s turnabout by the current Bush administration, and some of my thinking about “Undoing Denial.”

Eric, I too have been researching torture. I’m glad to see your article has reached print; I have often followed up the links you supplied in Today’s Papers.

Deconstructing Bush on this past week’s speeches, I made a comment in the WP’s PostGlobal blog that I’d like to repeat here, lest it be lost in the crowd of argumentation there.

There is a major shift by the administration in taking responsibility for torture. To quote myself,

The hidden issue in the discussion on U.S. use of torture has been “Who is responsible for the torture of detainees at U.S. hands?” [By responsibility, I mean deliberative policy decisions, not “blame.”] Prior to this past week, responsibility has been laid at the few people photographed administering demeaning and painful treatment to prisoners at Abu Ghraib, after it was “Gitmoized.” It was never that the current President Bush was responsible for torture; hardly that Donald Rumsfeld was responsible; just barely that Alberto Gonzales had declared torture to be illegal. “Probably Bush doesn’t know,” we could reason. It was only in the little-noted signing statement to the McCain Amendment against torture that Bush (or his miniions in the White House) noted that the President could authorize torture.

Now, in this past week, in the run up to the 9/11, President Bush has come clean. Yes, the United States has used “alternative techniques” in the interrogation of “some” prisoners, and thus gotten good information. In one stroke, he has taken on the Jack Bauer (from the TV show “24”) mantle of “whatever it takes,” and put himself back on that mound of rubble of the twin towers.

Ten years ago, people who were tortured, such as Jewish (Maccabean) and Christian (Perpetua and Felicity) martyrs, were saints. Torturers were vile people who persecuted those who had different beliefs. Now the President, the executive voice of the people of the United States, says “Yes, we torture.” He voices full knowledge and responsibility for such acts; by extension, we as U.S. citizens are also responsible.

I concluded, to anyone reading through all the comments, “Please let this be a temporary aberration.”