Prof. Jose Maria Sison
On 17 October 2006, George W. Bush signed the Military Commissions Act of 2006. He called it one of the most important pieces of legislation in the war on terror. In a public statement, the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has described the new law as one of the worst measures ever enacted against civil liberties in American history.
“The president can now — with the approval of Congress — indefinitely hold people without charge, take away protections against horrific abuse, put people on trial based on hearsay evidence, authorize trials that can sentence people to death based on testimony literally beaten out of witnesses and slam shut the courthouse door for habeas petitions,” ACLU executive director Anthony Romero said.
In sum, the new Act does three things:
1. It denies non-citizens of the US the right to habeas corpus (the right of detainees to challenge their detention);
2. It gives the US President the power to detain indefinitely anyone “US or foreign nationals, from within the US, and from abroad” whom he believes to have given material support to hostilities against the US, and even use secret and coerced evidence (i.e. through use of torture) to try detainees who will be held in secret US military prisons;
3. It gives US officials immunity from prosecution for torturing detainees that were captured before the end of 2005 by the US military and CIA.
On the matter of habeas corpus, the Act: strips US courts of jurisdiction to hear habeas corpus appeals challenging the lawfulness or conditions of detention of anyone held in US custody as an “enemy combatant;” denies any person the right of invoking the Geneva Conventions or their protocols in any action in any US court; allows civilians captured far from any battlefield to be tried by military commission rather than civilian courts, violating international standards and case law; restricts the right of detainees to be represented by counsel of their choosing.
The Act gives broad powers to the US president to detain indefinitely and allow the use of torture to extract information. Detainees can be held indefinitely without charges or if trials are held there are no guarantees that these are done within a reasonable time. It permits the executive to convene military commissions to try “alien unlawful enemy combatants” in trials that would give foreign nationals a lower standard of justice than US citizens accused of the same crimes in violation of the principle of equal application of the law.
The Act allows the use of evidence extracted under cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, or as a result of “outrages upon personal dignity, particularly humiliating or degrading treatment”, as defined under international law. It allows the use of classified evidence without the defendant being able to effectively challenge the “sources, methods or activities” by which the government acquired the evidence. It gives the military commissions the power to hand down death sentences in contravention of international standards.
The Act in effect would now consider as legal the following torture methods that have been routinely practiced by US forces in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo prisons which have generated universal outrage: (1) Long Time Standing: Prisoners are forced to stand, handcuffed and with their feet shackled to an eye bolt in the floor for more than 40 hours. Exhaustion and sleep deprivation are effective in yielding confession. (2) The Cold Cell: The prisoner is left to stand naked in a cell kept near 50 degrees. Throughout the time in the cell the prisoner is doused with cold water that can induce hypothermia.
The Act gives US officials immunity from prosecution. It narrows the scope of the War Crimes Act by not expressly criminalizing acts that constitute “outrages upon personal dignity, particularly humiliating and degrading treatment” banned under Article 3 common to the four Geneva Conventions. It prohibits US courts from using “foreign or international law” in forming their decisions in relation to the War Crimes Act. The US President is given the authority to “interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions.”
With this law the US Congress has put a stamp of approval to the systematic violation of international law the US has been guilty of in the past years in the conduct of its spurious “war on terror.” Human rights violations have included: secret detention, enforced disappearance, torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, outrages upon personal dignity, including humiliating treatment, denial and restriction of habeas corpus, indefinite detention without charge or trial, prolonged incommunicado detention and arbitrary detention.
Michael Ratner of the Center for Constitutional Rights has described the Act as giving to the US president the authority of an authoritarian despot and the power to detain any person anywhere in the world, citizen or non-citizen, whether living in the United States or elsewhere. The American Civil Liberties Union, the Center for Constitutional Rights and other human rights organizations in the US are determined to challenge the constitutionality of the Act.
The International League of Peoples’ Struggle (ILPS) is outraged by the enactment of the US Military Commissions Act of 2006 as it may become a very dangerous turning point in the rise of fascism in the US and the rest of the world, unless the people condemn and oppose it resolutely and militantly until it is struck down. This Act makes the US the No, 1 rogue state in the world by deliberately and systematically violating the universally accepted principles and standards of human rights,
The International League of Peoples’ Struggle calls on its participating organizations in the US and in other countries to wage a relentless campaign against this fascist law. All freedom-loving people of the world must stand up to defend human rights and fundamental freedoms and fight this latest brutal assault on democracy and human dignity.