Scrap the Detainee Bill: Liberty is a Cornerstone of Security


Recently, the President and his allies succeeded in passing a bill that drives a stake through the heart of one of America’s most important civil rights, habeas corpus.

Habeas corpus is the power of an individual to challenge his or her detention in court. Article I of the Constitution prohibits Congress from suspending habeas corpus except “when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.” Even if we assume that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 constituted an invasion, which is a very tenuous position, the actions of the President and Congress this week have made Americans less safe and less free.

While the Military Commissions Act of 2006 forbids torture, it gives Mr. Bush authority to define what constitutes torture, thereby evading Article III of the Geneva Conventions. We have already begun to see the results of eroded civil liberties and broad executive authority. The situation is dire. Declassified documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union under the Freedom of Information Act reveal a concerted effort by the federal government to bypass civil rights and use torture in the name of national security. One report described the grisly death of an inmate in Iraq who was brutally beaten and “shackled to the top of a doorframe with a gag in his mouth at the time he lost consciousness and became pulseless.” Such barbaric treatment has not been confined to foreigners, but is applied to American citizens as well. Ali Partovi, an Iranian-American, was one of 1200 Arab and Muslim men detained by the US after 9/11. Today, Mr. Partovi remains in an Arizona jail cell despite not having been charged with a crime or even being officially suspected of being a threat to national security.

The horrifying nature of these techniques is clear. However, the root of the problem is the administration’s assumption, shared by millions of Americans, that liberty and security require trade-offs-that the two are adversaries that must be weighed against one another. Nothing could be further from the truth. Liberty and security are inextricably linked. And even if Mr. Bush’s techniques were permissible under US and International law, we must focus on a simple question: are they making us safe from the threat of terror?

The answer is clearly no. Army Col. Stuart Herrington, a military intelligence specialist who conducted interrogations in Vietnam, Panama, and Iraq during Desert Storm, told the Washington Post that torture is ineffective because, “[prisoners will] just tell you anything to get you to stop.” (Anne Applebaum, “The Torture Myth,” The Washington Post 12 Jan. 2005, A21.) In addition, Herrington stated that torture endangers our soldiers by encouraging reciprocity, damages the American image, and undermines the nation’s credibility abroad. Torture and the stripping of civil liberties has not and will not make Americans safe from terror.

We cannot choose between liberty and security. The Military Commissions Act of 2006 weakens our time-honored liberties, erodes the credibility of the United States, and places American troops at risk of retaliatory attacks. If the President truly wanted to honor the victims of September 11 he would refocus the energies of our military on Al-Qaeda and make sure that all people receive due process of law and a fair chance at justice.

Andrew L. Kalloch is a 1L.

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