The Journey From Friend to Foe

Some of you might be wondering, reasonably enough, how it came to pass that a fellow (me) who was so in favor of a Congressional compromise over terror detainee legislation would in the end become such a foe of the deal that ultimately became the law. Early on, when news first broke of the so-called "GOP compromise" brokered by Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz) and others, I warned you that the devil would be in the details. When those details finally emerged last week, some of them only days before the voting, it became clear to me that the "compromise" was in fact no such thing and that the legislation unnecessarily (and in my view dangerous) curtails core legal protections. It's as simple as that. The Congress and the White House had a unique opportunity to do the right thing and didn't. And in times like this that just isn't good enough.

Looking back on those earlier posts, it is clear that I did not understand how broad the detainee legislation actually could become; how it could be expanded to include not just "enemy combatants" captured overseas, like the hundreds of men now awaiting their fate at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but also legal residents of the United States, here legally, who under the new measure now may be singled out by the President, classified as a combatant and denied even the limited due process rights to which non-residents have long been entitled. I did not predict that the Congress would be willing to make the mlitary tribunal legislation a vehicle to deprive people of the writ of Habeas Corpus-- the right to challenge detention in a court of law. I refused to believe that Sen. McCain and others would in the end permit the Administration to get federal legislation that authorizes, more than it has before, the sorts of "alternative procedures" (read: torture) the President says he must have at his disposal to glean information from high-ranking terror suspects.

Had the government stuck to the military tribunal problem-- had it merely enacted a law designed to process and prosecute the Gitmo detainees-- I could have tolerated the proposed limitations on the mens' due process rights. The fact is, those men captured on overseas battlefields do not deserve the same sorts of legal protections that we do, or that our soldiers do. And, indeed, I believe the strongest and fairest part of the new law is the part that focuses upon practical solutions to the problem of trying the detainees without jeopardizing our national security. It is when the government stretched the boundaries of the new law, and when it did so in the dark over the weekend before, that they all lost me. This is especially so since the Administration still hasn't explained, justified or apologized for the many missteps (some call them crimes) it has committed toward the detainees

So that's my individual journey, from being a supporter of a compromise that would finally allow the Gitmo logjam to be broken, to being a skeptic who believes that our nation and our law is far worse off with this new measure than it was without it. Time will determine whether optimistic and encouraging Andrew wins out over the negative and gloomy one.

By Andrew Cohen |  October 2, 2006; 7:00 AM ET
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Move along, nothing to see here, politics just trumped human rights again. Go on home, go on now.

Posted by: MC | October 2, 2006 02:43 PM

Just a though occasioned by those who liken support for detainee's rights to advocating "national suicide" -

While I will not pass judgment on whether this bill will accomplish its authors' goals (whatever those might be), it seems to me that its betrayal of our forefathers' ideals of liberty and justice is the saddest means of national suicide possible. Bush, literal-minded reductionist that he is, fails to grasp the idea that the United States is more than its citizens and territories. Only following his narrow understanding is it even possible to believe that our "great experiment" is endangered (except insofar as we endanger it in reponse) by terrorists.

Posted by: Pragmatist | October 2, 2006 06:35 PM

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