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Military Commissions Act of 2006

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Location: Washington, DC


MILITARY COMMISSIONS ACT OF 2006 -- (House of Representatives - September 27, 2006)

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Mr. SCHIFF. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman for yielding.

Mr. Speaker, it has taken over 5 years since September 11 for the administration to finally come to Congress and seek legislation establishing military tribunals to try terrorist suspects.

For over 4 years now, many of my Democratic colleagues and I have urged this Congress to act in this area. Four-and-a-half years ago I introduced legislation, other of my colleagues did the same, to establish military tribunals, and we introduced that legislation for two reasons: first, because we should detain people who mean to harm our country and mean to injure our citizens; and, second, because the administration's unilateral act in establishing these commissions was on the most dubious of constitutional grounds and we did not want to be where we are today, 5 years hence, with a system that was struck down by the Supreme Court, where people have not been brought to justice.

But here we are. It has taken the majority and the administration 5 years to get here, but here we are.

Terrorists who seek to harm this country must be captured. They must be tried, detained and punished to protect our country, and there is a way to detain them, to gather valuable intelligence from them, to try and convict them without sacrificing our ideals as a Nation.

We are at war with a vicious enemy who seeks to destroy our way of life. It is a military fight; but in a broader sense, it is also a war of ideas.

America has always been not only a Nation it has been an idea and when we sacrifice that idea, it is a setback in this war of ideas.

So we have to ask ourselves where does this position us? Where does this bill position us in the war of ideas? Are we advancing or are we retreating when we are perceived as abandoning the rule of law? When we are perceived as defining what it means to be cruel or inhuman or degrading?

When we wonder out loud in the legislative process whether a Nation so conceived as ours can long endure without cruel and inhuman treatment? When we show to the world that we are questioning the very idea of America, whether this Nation can long endure with a respect for the rule of law, with respect for the concept that people who are detained by America will not be mistreated, that people detained by America will have a right to confront evidence against them will have the sacred right of habeas corpus?

When we put forward legislation that says that an American can be plucked off the street, given a label unilaterally by any administration, by this President or the next, as an unlawful enemy combatant, and all their rights evaporate once they are given that label, that calls into question the very idea of America; and that, I believe, is a setback in the war of ideas.

We can do better than this bill. And, in fact, on Friday, we had better than this bill, when Senator Warner and Senator McCain came forward with what I thought was a sound compromise. We had a sound compromise on Friday, but during the weekend that unraveled. During the weekend, I think we took a step back in the war on ideas.

It was not an irrevocable step back. The majority and the administration has waited 5 years to bring us legislation on this subject. Let us take another 5 days, if it takes it, to get it right.

We shouldn't be retreating back to our districts just because of our election and leaving the work undone or done poorly. And I regret to say that this bill is done poorly, and it must be changed.

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Mr. SCHIFF. Mr. Speaker, I want to try to resolve an issue which has been debated here this afternoon about what the effect of this legislation is on American citizens.

Plainly, the legislation defines ``unlawful enemy combatant'' as any person who materially supports someone or is believed to support someone engaged in hostilities against the United States. That includes American citizens. And yet the majority says, but, under the legislation, only aliens can be brought up before the military tribunal. That is also correct. So how do you resolve this apparent difference?

The reality is there is no difference. Because what the bill contemplates is a two-part system of justice: one for those who are brought before tribunals, and one for those who may never be brought before tribunals but who are, nonetheless, detained as unlawful enemy combatants. Because this bill contemplates that people will be detained, whether it is in a secret CIA prison or elsewhere, and perhaps never brought before a tribunal; and there is nothing in this legislation that prohibits the detention of an American indefinitely, never brought before a tribunal.

Now the majority says, we don't do away with the habeas rights of Americans, writ large or writ small. If that is the case, why don't we say that in this legislation, that an American detained as an unlawful enemy combatant has the right of habeas corpus? The reason we don't say it in this bill is because the administration has consistently taken the position that those detained, including Americans, as unlawful enemy combatants do not have the right of habeas corpus to seek redress in courts and have fought that already in court.

So where does that leave us in the war of ideas? We have an enemy that has nothing to offer in the war of ideas. We have everything to offer. But when we undermine the idea of what it is to be an American, the idea of this country, by saying that we will water down the rule of law, that we will have a separate system of justice or no system of justice, for those who are declared unlawful combatants will have no right to court redress, that is a setback in the war of ideas.

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