The Detainee Bill Now Gets Even Worse

Fascinating piece this morning by Farah Stockman of the Boston Globe entitled "Legal residents' rights curbed in detainee bill." Her lead? "A last-minute change to a bill currently before Congress on the rights of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay could have sweeping implications inside the United States: It would strip green-card holders and other legal residents of the right to challenge their detention in court if they are accused of being 'enemy combatants.'

Stockman continues: "An earlier draft of the bill sparked criticism because it removed the rights of Guantanamo Bay detainees to challenge their detentions in federal court. But changes made over the weekend during negotiations between the White House and key Republicans in Congress go even further, making it legal for noncitizens inside the United States to be detained indefinitely, without access to the court system, until the 'war on terror' is over. It is unclear who initiated the changes. The bill, which also sets up a new system of military trials for terrorist suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, passed the House yesterday and is expected to be voted on in the Senate today, before Congress breaks for midterm elections."

Just contemplate what the proposed change means. It means that any green-card holder accused of even the most minimal link to a terror group can be treated like Yaser Hamdi, the US-born Yemeni man who was held incommunicado and without charges for years until the U.S. Supreme Court forced his release. It means that any legal resident can be rounded up by the White House, accused of being an enemy combatant on the flimsiest of charges, and be precluded from going to the courts, or anywhere else for help.

What an awesome power this gives the executive branch. And you might feel a whole lot better about the Administration's ability to use that power wisely if the history of the last five years weren't littered with examples where the White House overstepped that power. I already mentioned Hamdi, to whom the government said simply "never mind" after those long years of captivity. There is Jose Padilla, whom then-Attorney General John Ashcroft called a dirty bomb suspect, who now may not even be convicted of the most minor charges. There is Maher Arar, a Canadian, whom our officials knew was not a terrorist but who nevertheless was sent to Syria for torture.

With this track record, do you think the White House has earned the right from Congress to have even more discretion to apprehend people without giving those people a chance to have their case adjudicated by a fair and impartial court? With this track record, do you have confidence that grievous errors won't occur in the future? The proposed detainee is bad enough. The change Stockman has discovered would make it infinitely worse.

By Andrew Cohen |  September 28, 2006; 11:00 AM ET
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