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July/August 2011
Vol. 36, No. 4

Torture: Urge Senate to oppose indefinite detention

On May 26, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the $690 billion National Defense Authorization Act for FY 2012 (HR 1540), which included section 1034, a provision introduced by Rep. Buck McKeon (R-CA), chair of the House Armed Services Committee. Section 1034 would give the president the authority to detain people indefinitely and declare war against anyone thought to be associated with Al Qaeda or the Taliban. This power could remain in effect as long as the broadly-defined "war on terrorism" continues, and would provide another bump in the road on closing Guantanamo Bay, something the president says he still intends to do.

According to the daily Congressional newspaper The Hill, McKeon argues that the provision's language is similar to the Authorization for the Use of Military Force that was passed in 2001. While the "war on terrorism" originally was defined in terms of September 11, 2001, McKeon believes that the conflict is different and more widespread now. "I believe our men and women in uniform deserve to be on solid legal footing as they risk their lives in defense of the United States."

However, the House Foreign Affairs Committee has the power to introduce such provisions, not the Armed Services Committee. No hearings or any sort of debate were held on the provision.

On May 24, the White House issued its official objection to various provisions of the bill, including indefinite detention. The administration objects to restrictions on funds that would transfer detainees to the U.S. for civilian court trials as it believes that civilian courts have effectively tried terrorism suspects in the past and would continue to do so. Additionally, the president objects to section 1034 due to the lack of debate or discussion of the provision.

A group of 40 retired generals and admirals issued a letter to the Senate Armed Services Committee, urging it to oppose the several controversial provisions. The letter asserted the generals and admirals' belief that the U.S. must adhere to its domestic and international legal obligations and that suspects should be tried as criminals in court rather than in military commissions: "The military's mission should not be expanded to become judge, jury and jailer for all foreign terror suspects. Federal courts have more criminal laws to incapacitate terrorists, more precedent to guide them, and more experience in adjudicating these laws than military tribunals."

Faith in action:

The Senate Armed Services Committee will work on its version of the bill in closed session and should have a version ready in early July. Check the list of members of this committee, and if one of your senators is listed, please urge him/her to remove section 1034 from the Senate version.

Speaking out against torture

On June 23, 15 Witness Against Torture activists entered the gallery at the U.S. House of Representatives during its vote on the Defense Appropriations bill for FY 2012 (HR 2219) and read the following statement aloud:

"Today the House of Representatives is in the process of contemplating not the passage of a bill but the commission of a crime. Provisions in [HR 2219] grant the U.S. powers over the lives of detained men fitting of a totalitarian state that uses the law itself as an instrument of tyranny. The law would make the prison at Guantanamo permanent by denying funds for the transfer of men to the U.S., even for prosecution in civilian courts.

"Abandoning the civilian courts, the bill would be the ultimate concession that the rule of law and cherished American values cannot survive the fear and hatred that have consumed this country. The proposed bill makes restrictions on the transfer of detainees even to foreign countries so severe that no one — whether cleared for release by our own government or acquitted in trials — could be expected to leave Guantanamo. It therefore mandates the indefinite detention even of innocent human beings, which is the very essence of tyranny. Congress has an obligation to uphold the U.S. Constitution. ... The proposed bill makes America a callous and reckless jailer, unworthy of the name of democracy. It must be defeated. Guantanamo must close. Those unjustly bound must be freed. Justice must rule."

The activists were escorted out of the gallery and arrested.



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