Sunday, October 01, 2006

Power to the President

On Friday, Congress completed its work on the Military Comissions Act of 2006.

In a nutshell the Bill allows the President to interpret the Geneva Conventions, and establishes that the courts do not have jurisdiction to hear challenges to his interpretation.

The legislation also strips detainees of any right to challenge their detentions in court. [This little element is likely to land the Bill back before the Supreme Court, and force Congress to rewrite the legislation.]

It also defines "enemy combatants" more broadly. Now, an "enemy combatant" is any noncitizen living in the United States (legally or illegally) or living outside the United States who is determined by the Secretary of Defense or the President to be an enemy combatant.

This legislation gives the Executive Branch broad power in establishing the judicial process for detainees. The bill denies the Judicial branch oversight when the Executive branch is challenged on its execution of that process.

The United States needs to establish a judicial process for trying the detainees we currently have. We ought not just hold them forever. But, this terrible piece of legislation does not get us there. It gives too much power to the Executive branch, and elements of it that can be challenged in the courts will be, which means that it will be another couple of years before we have the possibility for a process. In the meantime the 14,000 people we're currently detaining, some of whom do not deserve to be there, continue to rot in detention centers.

I can only hope that the force of public opinion, both at home and abroad, will keep the Executive in check as it tries to execute this current law. Certainly, Democrats and moderate Republicans in Congress absolutely failed in their duty to do so.

[Read a powerful critique of the Bill and our Congress in The Nation.]

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