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October 17th, 2006 - Bush Signs Bill Setting Detainee Rules

News article by the New York Times

News article by Reuters

Profile of the Guantánamo Concentration Camp

Bush Signs Bill Setting Detainee Rules


By Sheryl Gay Stolberg

New York Times

October 17, 2006


Washington - President Bush signed legislation today that created new rules for prosecuting and interrogating terror suspects, a move that Mr. Bush said would enable the Central Intelligence Agency to resume a once-secret program to question the most dangerous terrorists.


“It is a rare occasion when a president can sign a bill he knows will save American lives,” Mr. Bush said during a formal ceremony in the East Room of the White House. He called the bill “a way to deliver justice to the terrorists we have captured.”


But the C.I.A. program is unlikely to resume immediately.


First, Mr. Bush must issue an executive order clarifying the rules for questioning high-level detainees. Many experts believe the harsh techniques the C.I.A. has used in the past, including extended sleep deprivation and water-boarding, which induces a feeling of drowning, will not be allowed under the new bill.


The new law strips the federal courts of jurisdiction to hear petitions from detainees for writs of habeas corpus, meaning that terror suspects cannot go to court to challenge the constitutionality of their confinement. As such, it has already spawned one legal challenge and both supporters and critics say it is likely to result in others.


“Congress had no justification for suspending the writ of habeas corpus - a core value in American law - in order to avoid judicial review that prevents government abuse,” said one leading critic, Senator Patrick J. Leahy, the Vermont Democrat who is his party’s senior member on the Senate Judiciary Committee. He called it “a sad day when the rubberstamp Congress undercuts our freedoms.”


The president was surrounded at the bill signing by senior members of his administration, including Vice President Dick Cheney, Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld and Gen. Michael V. Hayden, the C.I.A. director. Senior Republican lawmakers, among them Senators John W. Warner of Virginia and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, who balked at the initial White House version of the bill and forced a much-publicized compromise, were also on hand.


But the third leader of that much-publicized Republican rebellion, Senator John McCain of Arizona, was noticeably absent. Mr. McCain, a likely presidential contender in 2008, skipped the ceremony to go to Wisconsin to campaign for a Republican House member, John Gard, and was later headed to Sioux Falls, S.D., to address the Chamber of Commerce there. A spokeswoman said the senator’s absence was “purely an issue of scheduling.”


With the November midterm elections just three weeks away, Mr. Bush was hoping to use the bill signing to turn the political debate back to the war on terror - a strong issue for Republicans - and away from scandals like the Mark Foley case, which have dominated the news in recent weeks. Moments before he sat down to sign the measure, the president said he was doing so “in memory of the victims of September the 11th.”


Outside the White House, protesters, some dressed in orange jumpsuits of the sort worn by detainees at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, gathered around a makeshift black coffin painted with the words “The Corpse of Habeas Corpus.” Police arrested several of the protesters when they refused to move away from the White House gates.


The bill Mr. Bush signed today came in response to a Supreme Court ruling, Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, that invalidated the system of military commissions that Mr. Bush had set up for trying terror suspects, saying they required Congressional authorization. The court also said terror suspects had to be treated in accordance with a provision of the Geneva Conventions, Common Article Three, that prohibits cruel and inhumane treatment, including “outrages upon personal dignity.”


Last month, Mr. Bush acknowledged the existence of the secret C.I.A. program and said he was sending its remaining 14 terror operatives - including Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the reputed mastermind of the Sept. 11 attacks - to the detention center at Guantánamo Bay. He called on Congress to pass a bill setting up military commissions and establishing new standards for interrogation so that the C.I.A. program could go forward.


“This program has been one of the most successful intelligence efforts in American history,” Mr. Bush said today. “It has helped prevent attacks on our country. And the bill I sign today will ensure that we can continue using this vital tool to protect the American people for years to come.”


Critics of the measure, including civil liberties and human rights groups, were skeptical of that assertion.


“What the president didn’t say is that the abusive interrogation techniques that were the basis for the program are now criminalized,” said Jennifer Daskal, the advocacy director for Human Rights Watch, a human rights group.


“So while in theory he can continue to hold people in secret, he is clearly prohibited from engaging in the types of abuse that seem to be the entire basis and motivation for the program,” she said in an interview.


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Bush signs law authorizing harsh interrogation


By Steve Holland


Tue Oct 17, 2006 10:54 AM ET


Washington - President George W. Bush signed a law on Tuesday authorizing tough interrogation and prosecution of terrorism suspects and took an indirect, election-year swipe at Democrats who opposed the legislation.


Bush, trying to help Republicans maintain control of the U.S. Congress by emphasizing national security, called the Military Commissions Act of 2006 "one of the most important pieces of legislation in the war on terror."


Human rights groups charge that the measure would allow harsh techniques bordering on torture, such as sleep deprivation and induced hypothermia.


In a White House East Room ceremony, Bush praised members of Congress who approved the law over the opposition of the Democratic leadership in both the Senate and House of Representatives.


"Every member of the Congress who voted for this bill has helped our nation rise to the task that history has given us. Some voted to support this bill even when a majority of their party voted the other way," Bush said.


Much of the new law, which critics say still does not protect detainees' rights and predict will face legal challenge, was negotiated in September after senior Republicans rebelled against Bush's plan.


The new law means Bush can continue a secret CIA program for interrogating terrorism suspects whom he believes have vital information that could thwart a plot against America.


Bush said the law will allow intelligence professionals to question suspects without fear of being sued by them later.


"This bill spells out specific recognizable offenses that would be considered crimes in the handling of detainees so that our men and women who question captured terrorists can perform their duties to the fullest extent of the law," he said.


The White House has refused to describe what techniques will be allowed or banned.


Challenges seen


Critics and legal experts have predicted the new law will draw vigorous court challenges and could be struck down for violating rights guaranteed under the U.S. Constitution.


They cited provisions that strip foreign suspects of the right to challenge their detentions in U.S. courts and what they described as unfair rules for military trials.


Bush insisted the law complies with the spirit and letter of international agreements. "As I've said before, the United States does not torture. It's against our laws and it's against our values," he said.


The law also establishes military tribunals for terrorism suspects, most of whom are held at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.


The law was prompted by a Supreme Court ruling in June that said Bush lacked legislative authority in setting up his first system of military commissions. Future legal battles will likely also end up in the high court.


Shortly after Bush signed the law, the Republican National Committee issued a press releasing headlined, "Democrats would let terrorists free" and listed the names of many House and Senate Democrats who opposed it.


The American Civil Liberties Union expressed outrage, calling the new law "one of the worst civil liberties measures ever enacted in American history."


"Nothing separates America more from our enemies than our commitment to fairness and the rule of law, but the bill signed today is an historic break because it turns Guantanamo Bay and other U.S. facilities into legal no-man's-lands," said ACLU Executive Director Anthony Romero.


© Reuters 2006.


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