Guest Author - Tracey-Kay Caldwell
Presidential candidate, Senator Chris Dodd introduced a bill on February 13, 2007 that would restore habeas corpus rights to all detainees in U.S. custody and narrowly define who is an “enemy combatant.” The ACLU legislative counsel, Christopher E. Anders said, "The Military Commissions Act gave any president vast powers that violate our commitment to fairness and freedom, but the Dodd bill corrects those mistakes." The bill was co-sponsored by fellow Senator’s, Leahy, Feingold, and Menendez.
Dodd said, “I remember few days darker than September 28, 2006, the day the Senate passed President Bush's Military Commissions Act. Let me be honest with you, I believe this body gave in to fear that day. I believe we looked for refuge in the rule of men, when we should have trusted in the rule of law.” Senator Dodd’s bill would correct the flaws in the military commission act by restoring habeas corpus. Habeas corpus guarantees the right if you are held by the government to question the legality of your detention. Senator Feingold explained that, “ Under the Military Commissions Act, some individuals, at the designation of the executive branch alone, could be picked up, even in the United States, and held indefinitely without trial, without due process, without any access whatsoever to the courts. They would not be able to call upon the laws of our great nation to challenge their detention because they would have been put outside the reach of the law.”
The bill would narrow the definition of who is an enemy combatant. This would curb potential abuses by limiting the labeling of a defendant as an enemy combatant to those individuals, who participate directly in hostilities against the United States in a “zone of active combat” and are not lawful combatants. Dodd said, “This law confers an unprecedented level of power on the president, allowing him the sole right to designate any individual as an ‘unlawful enemy combatant’ if he or she engaged in hostilities or supported hostilities against the United States…. As we have all seen, ‘unlawful enemy combatants’ are subject to arrest and indefinite detention, in many cases without ever being changed with a crime, let alone being found guilty.”
This bill would limit the authority of the president to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions, making that authority subject to the congress and courts. The bill would allow detainees to invoke the Geneva Convention as a source of rights in their trial. The bill would statutorily define certain violations of the Geneva Conventions as war crimes. The bill would restore the responsibility to judges to ensure that evidence introduced at trial has not been obtained through methods defined as cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment. Dodd said, “Torture allows foreign militaries to mistreat future American prisoners of war and use U.S. actions as an excuse.” Judges would be given the power to exclude heresy evidence they deem to be unreliable. Judges would be granted discretion to handle classified information that bears on the innocence of an individual but is excluded due to national security concerns. Dodd said, “I trust our courts to be able to handle the delicate legal and national security issues inherent in the cases involving so-called unlawful enemy combatants.”
Senator Feingold said, “Senator Dodd's legislation addresses many of the most troubling and legally suspect provisions of the Military Commissions Act. Congress would be wise to make these changes now, rather than wait around while the Military Commissions Act is subject to further legal challenge, and another 4 or 5 years are squandered while cases work their way through the courts again.” It is time for Congress to take this issue on and restore America’s standing in the world as a protector of human rights.
The video of Senator Dodd explaining the Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007