Livin' it up, American style

Monday, October 23, 2006

I think America's the greatest, please don't arrest me!

The Military Commissions Act of 2006. Sounds innocuous enough, like maybe it deals with pay raises for people in the army or navy. But this bill that President Bush just signed is one of the most misguided and dangerous laws that America has seen in many years.

The Military Commissions Act authorizes the use of military commissions to try people who have been labeled an "unlawful enemy combatant". An unlawful enemy combatant (UEC) is someone who "has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States". A military tribunal composed of three 'neutral' officials choosen by the President or Secretary of Defense has the power to decide if a person is an enemy combatant. Once a person has been labeled an UEC, he will be tried for his crimes by a military commissions. But these military commissions are very different from a normal American court, and defendants have greatly restricted rights in these commissions.

Someone who has been labeled an UEC and faces trial by military commission does not have the power of habeas corpus. Habeas corpus is the right of a prisoner to appear before a court to challenge his arrest and detention as wrongful. The right has long been used to check the power of governments to arrest people without a reason. This right is longstanding in America, having only been suspended once before by Abraham Lincoln during the Civil War (though in that case Lincoln asked Congress for permission, whereas this new Act is going against a recent Supreme Court ruling that suspending Habeas Corpus in military commissions is illegal, not to mention the US Constitution). But now people can be arrested and jailed indefinitely without any recourse if they are innocent. I don't know about you, but the idea of getting arrested and put in jail while being totally innocent of any wrong doing, and being totally helpless to do anything about it is a very frightening idea. It gives too much power to the government and too little power to normal people.

Many rights that are guaranteed in regular American courts are not guaranteed in these military commissions. There is no guarantee of a speedy trial, no right to a pre-trial investigation, and civilian lawyers are not allowed to try cases. Judges are allowed to hear evidence based on hearsay, which is basically where someone can say "I saw Ted Kennedy eating dinner with Osama and they were discussing bombing Pizza Hut", and that statement can be entered as evidence against Ted Kennedy in these military courts. Yeah, so if there's someone you really don't like... Judges can also entertain evidence gathered without a search warrant, evidence gathered under coercion, or classified evidence that was kept secret from the defense. A guilty verdict needs only a 2/3's consensus of the military commission. So I don't know about you, but to me these commissions sound like courts set up to obtain as many guilty verdicts as possible.

This lovely bill also permits the continuation of a CIA program on torture, which I'll talk about later.


  • your examples may be misleading in this case because all these provisions apply only to foreigners, not Ameican citizens.

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:14 PM  

  • Hmmm, not necessarily. An American can be labeled as an unlawful enemy combatant, in fact three Americans already have been. But it is unclear whether they and future American UEC's will be subject to a military commission or to a normal American court. The bill, as it stands now, applies the military commissions rule to alien unlawful enemy combatants(which I should have made clear), but it does not say what should happen to Americans labeled as unlawful enemies. That's a pretty big loophole, and definitely leaves open the prospect of Americans being tried by the military commissions.

    By Blogger Stoltze, at 1:46 PM  

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