Military Commissions Act of 2006 Defies U.S. Constitution, Violates Fundamental Rights
Human Rights First today denounced the Military Commissions Act of 2006, passed yesterday by the House and today by the Senate. By passing this law, Congress has set the United States at odds with the Constitution, the laws of war, and American values.
“This was the moment for Congress to pass legislation that reflects the fundamental values of this country. Instead, it rushed to adopt an ill-considered law which history will judge harshly,” said Elisa Massimino, Washington Director of Human Rights First. “The many flaws in this law raise fundamental constitutional issues. It will result in prolonged legal challenges, instead of fair trials that ensure justice.”
Although Congress rejected an administration proposal to explicitly downgrade the humane treatment requirements of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, it also agreed to provisions that make the enforcement of those standards much more difficult and violate the fair trial requirements of Common Article 3. The most serious flaws in the Act include:
- Grants unprecedented and unchecked authority to the Executive Branch to label as “unlawful enemy combatants” and detain an overly broad range of people, including U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents inside the United States
- Denies any independent judicial review of these detentions
- Seeks to eliminate accountability for past violations of the law
- Permits evidence obtained through coercion
- Gives the Secretary of Defense authority to deviate from time-tested military justice standards for fair trials.
The bill does not, however, redefine the humane treatment standards of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, as the administration had originally proposed. To the contrary, it makes clear that subjecting detainees to treatment that involves serious physical or mental pain or suffering is a war crime.
“It should now be beyond argument that under this law, interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, prolonged stress positions, induced hypothermia, mock executions, prolonged sleep deprivation, and sexual humiliation are prohibited and those who commit those acts risk indictment for war crimes,” said Massimino. “But, the Act denies a person’s fundamental right to challenge their detention in court. The law purports to increase the authority of the President to interpret the Geneva Conventions and to strip the courts of their Constitutional power to do the same.”