By Kate Monaghan
October 17, 2006
(CNSNews.com) - President Bush Tuesday signed into law the much contested Military Commissions Act of 2006, the law aimed at defining how suspects in the war against terrorism will be interrogated and prosecuted. Despite much criticism, the president insisted that the act would provide a just response to those accused of terrorism.
"These military commissions will provide a fair trial in which the accused are presumed innocent, have access to an attorney and can hear all the evidence against them," said Bush.
"These military commissions are lawful, they are fair and they are necessary," he added.
Bush responded to the critics of the bill, one of whom described the law as "vile, disgusting" and a violation of the U.S. Constitution by saying that those with historical perspective understand the importance of the legislation.
"Over the past few months the debate over this bill has been heated and the questions raised can seem complex yet with the distance of history the questions will be narrowed and few: did this generation of Americans take the threat seriously? And did we do what it takes to defeat that threat?" Bush stated.
"Every member of Congress who voted for this bill has helped our nation rise to the task that history has given us," he said, referring to the difficult compromise that was reached on Capitol Hill.
Bush repeatedly stressed that the bill is just, not simply an unprecedented move of a power hungry, war mongering executive branch, as some have argued.
"The bill I'm about to sign also provides a way to deliver justice to the terrorists we've captured. In the months after 9/11 I authorized a system of military commissions to try foreign terrorists accused of war crimes," said Bush.
He continued, citing historical precedent for the law.
"These commissions were similar for trying enemy combatants in the Revolutionary War, in the Civil War and World War II. Yet the legality of the system I established was challenged in the court and the Supreme Court ruled that the military commissions need to be explicitly authorized by the US Congress and so I asked Congress for that authority and they have provided it," he said.
Despite Bush's insistence that the act provides a fair, legal and just response to terrorists, critics of the law say it is unjust, unconstitutional and un-American.
Rabbi Arthur Waskow - director of the Shalom Center, a network for Jewish thought, is one of those critics.
"It seems quite possible that the president thinks he has the power to take any person, citizen of the United States or not, inside the territory of the United States or not, and declare that person an enemy combatant. And since habeas corpus and other access to the courts under the law is presumably denied, his decision would be final," Waskow told Cybercast News Service.
Waskow added that such authority is "vile, disgusting," and violates the U.S. Constitution. "It violates the solemn treaties of the United States from both a religious perspective and the perspective of a democratic society itself. Totally unacceptable," said Waskow.
The Shalom Center is affiliated with the Washington Region Religious Campaign Against Torture (WRRCAT) which released a statement saying that the legislation "deeply shames America" and that members of the group were "prepared to commit acts of civil disobedience" in order to deliver a statement to the president.
President Bush, however, insists that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 upholds American ideals and complies with international law, particularly the Geneva Conventions Article 3 against torture.
"This bill complies with both the spirit and the letter of our international obligations. As I have said before the United States does not torture. It's against our laws and it's against our values," he said.
Waskow said he is shocked by this execution of presidential authority.
If anybody had said to me five years ago that the president of the United States would have demanded the power, the authority, to take Americans or others, citizens of other countries, into detention without access to lawyers for indefinite periods of time ... and to suspend habeas corpus, I would have said 'that's ludicrous-in the United States of America such things could not be done,'" said Waskow.
Timothy Lynch, director of the Cato Institute's Project on Criminal Justice, said the new law will not revolve entirely around Bush, but will pose problems of excessive power in the executive branch.
"It really doesn't come down to Mr. Bush, because if these powers are in place, the next president and the president after him - if they have these types of powers - then there's that potential for abuse," said Lynch.
"There are not sufficient legal safeguards in place to remedy abuses and sufficient checks on the power in the executive branch," added Lynch.
According to Lynch, the bill provides no legal arm preventing abuse or torture of the prisoners, only words.
"In law once the CIA program is revived as a practical matter, people are picked up and held in secret, and then all we have is assurances from the president and his people that they're not being tortured, that their rights are being respected," he said.
"But there's really no practical way of checking that." Lynch concluded.
President Bush concluded that "This nation will call evil by its name."
"We will answer brutal murder with patient justice. Those who kill the innocent will be held to account."