Congress Again Takes the Low Road
You want Congressional gridlock? You got it. Republican senators yesterday were willing and able to block two bipartisan measures that would have meaningfully altered our military commitment in Iraq and our legal response to the war on terrorism. This is how it's going to be for the next 16 months, until a new President is sworn in and the balance on Capitol Hill is recalculated again.
I'll leave it to the military experts to talk about the GOP's rejection of a proposal that would have allowed military personnel to take longer leaves from war zones. And I'll focus instead on the Republican filibuster that killed a measure that would have restored the right of terrorism suspects to use the federal courts to challenge their confinement. The demise of the Habeas Corpus Restoration Act of 2007 is further proof that too many legislators are still self-defeatingly loyal to an administration that has consistently overreached in conceiving and implementing new terror law policies.
The Supreme Court this coming term will review the administration's policies toward detainee rights-- for the third time. But, until that review, hundreds of men at Guantanamo Bay will continue to be held without trial. Despite the fact that many of them, by our military's own reckoning, never fired a shot at U.S. troops or otherwise supported Al Qaeda. Before these men get some sort of trial-- and some sort of appellate review-- they may already have spent nearly a decade in captivity.
Some Republicans Wednesday said that they voted against the detainee-rights measure because it would have opened up the floodgates to litigation-- as if the detainees all were represented by class-action attorneys looking to make a killing through contingency-fee cases. The "litigation" that might follow habeas restoration, however, would be far more basic. The men at Gitmo, and others, want someone other than their captors to determine whether they ought to remain detained. A reasonable enough proposition, right?
Still others, according to a piece in today's New York Times: "said Congress should await the Supreme Court review of the rights of detainees to assess whether the court agrees with the new law or overturns it. 'The court will say that the right exists, and nothing we do is going to affect that,' said Senator Jon Kyl, Republican of Arizona. 'But if the court confirms that we are right, then it would be not only unnecessary but wrong for us to change the law.' " This is precisely the sort of cowardly dodge-- we aren't going to fix the problem unless the court makes us-- that is stalling moves to fairly prosecute the detainees and close Gitmo once and for all.
Here's what Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.), one of the co-sponsors of the habeas measure, had to say following its defeat: "We have brought this to the Senate Floor not because it is politically easy or popular, but because it is the right thing to do. This has been a debate that has invoked constitutional principles, legal precepts, Latin phrases, and historical precedents. This is an issue that lends itself to politically provocative distortions. Constitutional principles need our defense not so much when it is popular to do so, as when it may not be popular or easy to do.
It is difficult to defend the higher ground by taking the lower road. The world knows what our enemies stand for. The world also knows what this country has tried to stand for and live up to-- in the best of times, and the worst of times."
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