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Kennedy on Hamdan Hearing

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Kennedy on Hamdan Hearing

Statement on Senate Armed Services Committee Hearing on Military Commissions

"America's strength and even our security depend on respect for the rule of law and the founding principles of the Constitution. In no uncertain terms two weeks ago, the Supreme Court delivered a well-deserved rebuke for the Administration's abuses at Guantanamo. In Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court said the President had gone too far. As Justice Breyer wrote "Congress has not issued the executive a blank check."

The tribunals and commissions at Guantanamo are fundamentally unfair and do not give detainees a reasonable opportunity to have the validity of their detention decided. The Administration promised swift justice, but it has locked detainees away for over four years without creating an adequate process to distinguish who belongs in detention and who should be released. Over four hundred fifty detainees have been held year after year under inhumane conditions.

The heart of the problem is that the Administration attempted to hold trials for the detainees in courts that the Supreme Court rightly rejected as an unconstitutional abuse of power, since they did not guarantee the basic procedural protections needed to provide a fair trial or achieve an accurate verdict.

Now Congress' work begins anew. The path ahead will speak volumes about our dedication to the rule of law and the Constitution - and it will have significant consequences for our national security. If our actions are consistent with our nation's long-held values, then perhaps this outrageous chapter will finally come to an end.

As the Supreme Court has made clear, any legislation creating a commission system must be consistent with our laws and ideals under the Constitution. We already have one such system: the Uniform Code of Military Justice. It was designed to operate in wartime, and has done so effectively. It can deal with classified information, protect the identities of government informants, and handle information that was gathered in intelligence interrogations. It even has provisions for classified proceedings.

As Justice Kennedy wrote in his concurring opinion in Hamdan, "a case that may be of extraordinary importance is resolved by ordinary rules." There is no question that the treatment of terrorists is of extraordinary importance, and the obvious starting point is the ordinary rules of our long-standing military justice system. Now is not the time for untested legal theories. We need to stand fast with our well-established legal traditions and values.

Let's take this opportunity to get it right, so we can put the terrorists on trial, not the system."

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