30 September 2006

Amnesty International press release on detainee legislation

As expected, human rights watchdog Amnesty International has issued a scathing press release in reaction to the Senate's passage of the heinous Military Commissions Act.

Below is the full text of the press release.


Thursday, September 28, 2006

Amnesty International Profoundly Disappointed By Congress' Passage of Detainee Legislation

Bill Provides More Confusion -- Not Clarity

(Washington, DC) -- Amnesty International is deeply concerned that today's passage of legislation by the U.S. Senate calls into question the United States' commitment to fundamental principles of justice and fair trials. The "Military Commissions Act," first approved by the House on Wednesday, fails to provide clarification of basic standards for treatment of persons in detention. Instead the bill adds more confusion where illumination was sought.

"Many have looked to the United States, as the world's sole superpower, to set the standard for human rights," said Larry Cox, Amnesty International USA Executive Director. "However, today Congress has sent the wrong message by refusing to affirm basic, universal standards recognized under human rights and humanitarian law. Rather than steering a clear course to uphold established standards of U.S. and international law, the bill creates new standards that appear to fall short and raise questions about the U.S. government's commitment to American values of due process and integrity.

"Amnesty International commends the Senators and Members of Congress who voted against this legislation. They took a principled stand by casting an important vote in favor of human rights, the rule of law and our nation's standing in the international community," added Cox.

The bill strips persons held in the U.S.-controlled detention center in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba -- many for almost five years without charge or meaningful judicial review -- and other alleged "enemy combatants" in U.S. custody of yet another right: the ability to file a writ of habeas corpus. It also would bar anyone in detention from going to court to protect his or her rights under the Geneva Conventions.

"By cutting off any opportunity for meaningful judicial review, Congress today chose to rely on an honor system in which the 'trust us' promises of the president and his administration are considered sufficient to ensure that people in U.S. custody and control are treated humanely and detained properly," said Jumana Musa, Amnesty International USA Advocacy Director for Domestic Human Rights and International Justice. "Past practices have proven that such assurances do not constitute a guarantee that people will be treated in accordance with U.S. and international law."

Anyone determined to be an "unlawful enemy combatant" could be detained by the U.S. government anywhere in the world for an act as minor as writing a check in a country far from any battlefield. This far-reaching definition twists on its head the concept of what constitutes a combatant.

An "unlawful enemy combatant" is defined as anyone determined by the U.S. government to have engaged in hostilities, to have "purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its cobelligerents," or anyone deemed as such by a "Combatant Status Review Tribunal" or another competent tribunal established under the authority of the President or the Secretary of Defense. This characterization allows the U.S. government to use a law of war rationale in place of a human rights framework to detain people -- on or off a battlefield -- indefinitely without charge or access to judicial review.

Amnesty International is also concerned about other provisions in the legislation including:

• Creation of a new tribunal system to try a wide variety of people in a military commissions system that is discriminatory and lacks fundamental due process protections because it establishes a dual track system of justice, one for Americans and another for foreign nationals that has minimal safeguards.

• Redefinition of fundamental areas of the law; returning to an outdated definition of rape and sexual abuse increases the difficulty of prosecuting individuals responsible for such acts.

• Retroactive immunity for those who have been implicated in creating policies or participating in abuse and other acts long believed to be torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

"The Supreme Court's decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld was a distinctive opportunity for setting the United States back on course to affirm American principles of justice and reverse years of flawed and failed policies. Unfortunately, the Congress turned bad administration policy into bad law," said Musa.

"Instead of focusing on accountability and providing clarity, the days ahead will be spent muddling through a deeper mess, striving to interpret the bill, reestablishing adherence to international human rights and humanitarian law and, sadly, more time arguing the legislation in court," said Cox. "The administration and Congress put the American people through a maze that led to a faulty policy and, in the process, lost a little more of its standing with the global community and the American public."

"Amnesty International will focus on holding the administration accountable -- not only to upholding its obligations under international human rights and humanitarian law, but also to fulfilling the expectations of Americans who believe in justice for all. The America we believe in leads the world on human rights," added Cox.


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