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Military Commissions Act of 2006

Location: Washington, DC

MILITARY COMMISSIONS ACT OF 2006 -- (Senate - September 28, 2006)


Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I have here before me the Department of Army regulations and rules for interrogating prisoners. In the document I have here, which is the official military document to define permissible interrogation techniques, it outlines certain interrogations which are prohibited and it lists these: forcing the person to be naked, perform sexual acts, or pose in a sexual manner; applying beatings, electric shock, burns, or other forms of physical pain; waterboarding; using dogs; inducing hypothermia or heat injury; conducting mock executions; depriving the person of necessary food, water, and medical care.

Those techniques are prohibited by the Department of Defense. Those techniques are prohibited from being used against adversaries in any kind of a conflict, blatant violations the requirement for humane treatment, and what I would consider to be torture. Certainly the Army and Department of Defense have effectively found that out that these techniques do not work. They have banned them and there has not been any objection to it.

What does our amendment say? Well, it says we in the United States are not going to tolerate those techniques if any of our military personnel are captured. But not all of the people who are representing the United States in the war on terror are wearing a uniform. For example, we have SEALs, we have some special operations, special forces, we have CIA agents. We have contractors and aid workers. We have more people around the world looking out after our security interests than any other country in the world.

What does this amendment say? Well, if our military personnel are not going to do this those we capture, we are saying to countries around the world: You cannot do this against any American personnel you are going to capture in this war on terror, or in any other conflict. This amendment is about protecting American personnel who are involved in the war on terror. It is saying to foreign countries: If you use any of these techniques, the United States will say this is a war crime and you will be held accountable. How can anybody be against that? This administration has sown confusion about our commitments to the Geneva Conventions, so that protection does not exist now. That protection does not exist now. Restoring that protection is basically what this amendment is all about.

I am not going to take much time, but I just want to remind our colleagues about how we viewed some of these techniques in our conflicts in previous wars.

On the issue of waterboarding, the United States charged Yukio Asano, a Japanese officer on May 1 to 28, 1947, with war crimes. The offenses were recounted by John Henry Burton, a civilian victim:

After taking me down into the hallway they laid me out on a stretcher and strapped me on. The stretcher was then stood on end with my head almost touching the floor and my feet in the air. They then began pouring water over my face and at times it was impossible for me to breathe without sucking in water. The torture continued and continued. Yukio Asano was sentenced to fifteen years of hard labor. We punished people with fifteen years of hard labor when waterboarding was used against Americans in World War II.

What about the case of Matsukichi Muta, another Japanese officer, tried on April 15 to 25, 1947, for, among other charges, causing a prisoner to receive shocks of electricity and beating prisoners. Shocks of electricity. He was sentenced to death by hanging. Death by hanging. We could go on.

In another case prosecuted from March 3 to April 30, 1948--the Japanese officer was sentenced for exposing prisoners to extreme cold temperatures, forcing them to spend long periods of time in the nude, making the prisoner stand in the cold for long periods of time, hour after hour, throwing water on him and inducing hypothermia. This officer received 15 years of hard labor. Fifteen years.

We didn't tolerate those abuses, and we should not tolerate those abuses inflicted on any Americans who are going to be taken in the war on terror. That is what this amendment is all about. It will tell the Secretary of State to notify every signatory from 194 nations, that if any of their governments are going to use any of these techniques on any Americans that are taken in this war on terror, that we will consider this a violation of the Geneva Conventions and that they will be accountable.

This is to protect our servicemen and servicewomen, those who are in the intelligence agencies, those performing dangerous duties, those who are not wearing the uniform in their battle against terror. We are putting everyone on notice.

We did not make up this list. All these techniques are taken right out of the Defense Department's code of conduct for interrogations.

I would take more time and review for my colleagues, where we tried individuals in World War II and sentenced individuals who performed these kinds of abuses on Americans to long periods of incarceration and even to death.

I reserve the remainder of my time.


Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, it will be quite surprising to me if the Senate is not prepared to accept this amendment. I look back at the time that we actually passed the War Crimes Act of 1996. At that time it was offered by Walter B. Jones, a Republican Congressman. It was offered in response to our Vietnam experience, where American servicemen--including one of our own colleagues and dear friends, Senator McCain--had been subject to torture during that period of time.

When this matter came up, both in the House of Representatives and the Senate of the United States, it passed in the Senate of the United States without a single objection. It passed the House by voice vote. This is what it says, under War Crimes, chapter 118:

Whoever, whether inside or outside the United States, commits a war crime .....

And it talks about the circumstances--

..... as a member of the armed forces of the United States or a national United States. It is in Title 18 so those out of uniform are subject to the code.

So that is the CIA. Those are the SEALS. Those are the people involved now in our war on terror. Then it continues along to define a war crime as a violation of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. That provision protects against cruel treatment and torture. It prevents the taking of hostages. It prohibits outrages upon personal dignity. Those are effectively the kinds of protections that act affords.

We heard a great deal from the administration, from the President, that he wanted specificity in the War Crimes Act and the Geneva Conventions in terms of what is permitted and what is not permitted. He felt those terms are too vague. Well, on that he is right. There is confusion in the world. There is confusion in the world about our commitment to the Geneva Conventions and what we think it means. There is a good deal of confusion in the world in the wake of what happened at Abu Ghraib. There we found out that these harsh interrogation techniques had been used. Sure, we have had 10 different reviews of what happened over there. What we always find out is it is the lower lights, the corporals and the sergeants who are the ones being tried and convicted. Those in the higher ranks are not. No one has stood up and said clearly, those are violations of the Geneva Conventions. So we have Abu Ghraib, which all of us remember. And it has caused confusion.

We have the circumstances in Guantanamo--the conduct of General Miller, who brought these harsh interrogation techniques to Guantanamo at Secretary Rumsfeld's direction. When the Armed Services Committee questioned his whole standard of conduct, he moved toward early retirement to avoid coming up and facing the music. This caused confusion about our commitments to the Geneva Conventions.

Then you had the Bybee memorandum, which was effectively the rule of law for some 2 years, which permitted torture, any kind of torture, and it said that any individual who is going to be involved in torturing would be absolved from any kind of criminality if the purpose of their abusing any individual was to get information and there was no specific intent to have bodily harm for that individual. This caused confusion about our commitments to the Geneva Conventions.

That was the Bybee amendment. Finally, Attorney General Gonzales had to repudiate that or he never would have been approved as the Attorney General of the United States. That is the record in the Judiciary Committee. I sat through those hearings. I heard the Attorney General say they were repudiating the Bybee memorandum on that.

This is against a considerable background of where we have seen some extraordinary abuses.

Then we have tried to clarify our commitment. We have the action in the Senate of the United States, by a vote of 90 to 9, accepting Senator McCain's Amendment to prohibit cruel, inhumane, and degrading treatment; to make the Army Field Manual the law of the land; to say we are not interested in torture. Senator McCain understands. He believes that waterboarding is torture. He believes using dogs is torture. This is not complicated. We don't have to cause confusion. We have it written down on this list of prohibited techniques. It is not my list of prohibited techniques, but it is written down by the Department of Defense. This amendment says if a foreign country is going to practice these kinds of behavior against an American national who is out there in the war on terror and is being picked up, we are going to consider this to be a war crime. This is about protecting Americans.

I don't understand the hesitancy on the other side, not being willing to accept this amendment. Let's go on the record about what we say is absolutely prohibited and what we know has been favored techniques that have been used by our adversaries at other times. Let's go on the record for clarity.

Looking back in history, at the end of World War II and otherwise, we are all familiar with the different examples where these techniques--frighteningly familiar to the series of techniques used in Iraq and Guantanamo--and are often frequently used against Americans.

I am reminded--I gave illustrations: electric shocks, waterboarding, hypothermia, heat injury. We all remember the 52 American hostages who were held in the U.S. Embassy in Iran. They were subjected to the mock executions.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator has used 5 minutes.

Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I hope we could accept this amendment. I yield myself 1 more minute.

It basically incorporates what the Senate did several years ago with war crimes. It is trying to respond to what the President says. He wants specificity about what is going to be prohibited and what will not be.

The Department of Defense has found these areas to be off limits for the military. All we are saying is if other countries are going to do that to Americans, they are going to be held accountable.

This is about protecting Americans. That is the least we ought to be able to do for those who are risking their lives in very difficult circumstances.


Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I yield myself 4 minutes.

Mr. President, I want to point out why this is so necessary and so essential.

In reviewing the underlying legislation, if you look under the provisions dealing with definitions on page 70 and 71, and then read on, you will find that it is difficult to read that without having a sense of the kind of vagueness which I think surrounds prohibited interrogation techniques. It talks about substantial risks and extreme physical pain. But the statute does not have specifics to define the areas which are prohibited. The techniques in my amendment are the same ones the Department of the Army and, to my best knowledge, our colleague and friend from Arizona has identified. Voting for my amendment would provide those specifics.

The President has asked for specificity, but he has refused to say whether Common Article 3 would prohibit these kinds of acts. That has left the world doubting our commitment to Common Article 3 and has endangered our people around the globe--those who are working for the United States in the war on terror.

The administration's obfuscation comes at a great risk.

This amendment provides the clarity and sends a message to the world that these techniques are prohibited. They are prohibited from our military bringing them to bear on any combatants. We interpret the legislation so that any country in the world that has signed on to the Geneva Conventions, any of those countries that are going to practice activities prohibited by the field manual, that I consider to be torture, are going to be held by the United States interrogation committing a war crime. This is important. It is essential. It is necessary.

The general concept was improved without objection a number of years ago in the wake of the Vietnam situation, regarding the definition of war crimes. We ought to restate and recommit ourselves to protecting Americans involved in the war on terror and ensure they will not be subject to these activities.

At the present time, without this amendment, it will be left open. If we accept this amendment, it would make it clear it is prohibited. That is what we should do.


Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, I would like to inquire of the Senator from Virginia, and I yield myself 3 minutes. As I understand, one of the reasons this amendment is being rejected is because of the burden that it is going to place on our State Department to notify the 194 countries that we expect, if these techniques are used against Americans, they would be considered a war crime. That is a possible difficulty for us? That is a burden for our State Department? Or, rather is he objecting because, we can't foresee all of the different kinds of techniques that might be used against individuals and therefore we shouldn't list these. We list them in the Army Field Manual specifically. They are not pulled out of the air; they are listed specifically in the Army Field Manual. That is where they come from. And a number of the Members on the other side of the aisle have said that those techniques are prohibited. So we have taken the Department of Defense list and incorporated it.

Then the last argument is that: Well, if it is rejected, we don't want this to be interpreted as a green light for these techniques. There must be stronger arguments. Maybe I am missing something around here. With all respect, I have difficulty in understanding why the Senator from Virginia, the chairman of the Armed Services Committee, does not address the fundamental issue which is included in this amendment, and that is this amendment protects Americans who are out on the front lines of the war on terror, the SEALS, the CIA, others who are fighting, and it gives warning to any country: You go ahead with any of these techniques and you are committing a war crime and will be held accountable.

Now, if I could get a good answer to that, I would welcome it, but I haven't heard it yet. With all respect, I just haven't heard why the Senator is refusing and effectively denying--opposition to this amendment is denying that kind of protection. I read, and it was when the Senator was here, when we found out that similar kinds of techniques were used against Americans in World War II, and we sentenced offenders to 10, 15 years and even executed some. Now we are saying: Oh, no, we can't list those because it is going to be a bother to our State Department, notifying these countries. My, goodness.

There has to be a better reason that we are not going to protect our service men and women from these kinds of techniques. We are saying to those countries: If you use these techniques, you are a war criminal. What are those techniques? They are in the Department of Defense listing. That is what they are. How often are they used? I gave the illustrations of how they were used repeatedly, whether it has been by Iran or whether it has been by Japan, or any of our adversaries in any other war.

The PRESIDING OFFICER. The Senator has consumed 3 minutes.

Mr. KENNEDY. I yield myself 1 minute. I want to put in the RECORD the excellent letter from Jack Vessey, who is a distinguished former Joint Chief of Staff:

I continue to read and hear that we are facing a different enemy in the war on terror. No matter how true that may be, inhumanity and cruelty are not new to warfare nor to enemies we have faced in the past. In my short 46 years in the armed forces, Americans confronted the horrors of the prison camps of the Japanese in World War II, the North Koreans in 1950 to 1953, and the North Vietnamese in the long years of the Vietnam War, as well as knowledge of the Nazi's holocaust depredations in World War II. Through those years, we held to our own values. We should continue to do so.

The Kennedy amendment does it. That is what this amendment is about. I reserve the remainder of my time


Mr. WARNER. Mr. President, my distinguished colleague used two phrases just now. He said: Burden. He used the word burden. He then said the word bother. Senator, you walk straight into the constitutional separation of powers in your language and you say: The Secretary of State shall--that is a direct order--notify other parties to the Geneva Conventions. You are putting a direct order to the executive branch. I say that is a transgression of the long constitutional history of this country and the doctrine of separation of powers.

Mr. KENNEDY. Would the Senator support it if we changed it to ``shall,'' that you, the chairman of our committee, will make that request and the President will go ahead and notify and follow those instructions?

Mr. WARNER. Senator, I am not in the business of trying to amend your amendment.

Mr. KENNEDY. I am just trying to accommodate you. You are saying that this is a constitutional issue. I just offered to try to accommodate the Chairman so we can ensure we are protecting American servicemen from torture--from torture. And the response is: Well, it is going to violate the Constitution. I am interested in getting results.

But I hear the Senator say that it is unconstitutional that my amendment says Department of State shall notify other countries that if they are going to torture, they are going to be held accountable, and we are being defeated on the floor of the U.S. Senate because the opponents are saying that is unconstitutional and we cannot find a way to do it. I find this unwillingness to compromise is outrageous.

Mr. President, I am prepared to call the roll on this one.


Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, here is the Army Manual of 2006 printed after the Senate of the United States went on record in accepting the McCain amendment prohibiting torture. In the printed Army Manual is a list of the prohibited activities where any person who is a member of the Defense Department is prohibited to engage in these kinds of activities because they have made a finding that they are basically and effectively torture.

Today we have thousands of Americans in the Central Intelligence Agency, Special Forces, the SEALS, and American contractors working for the CIA around the world fighting terrorism. All this amendment does is give notice to each and every country that any country that is going to practice these kinds of techniques on any American will be guilty effectively of a war crime.

That is effectively what we have done with the Army Manual, and we ought to protect our intelligence agency personnel, our SEALS, and all of those who are all over the world protecting the United States.

Arguments against? It is a violation of the Constitution because it is an instruction to a member of the Cabinet about what they ought to do.

Here it is for airports. The Secretary of Transportation shall conduct an assessment with foreign countries.

Here it is on voting rights. The Attorney General is authorized and directed to institute suits that are going to be involved in poll taxes.

The Secretary of State shall notify without delay foreign states that are involved in pollution. The list goes on. If we can do it for pollution, we can do it for violation of basic and fundamental rights of Americans overseas.

This is effectively about what we adopted when we adopted the War Crimes Act, which was virtually unanimous, with not a single vote in opposition.

This is basically a restatement. I hope it will be accepted overwhelmingly.


Mr. KENNEDY. Mr. President, in times of war, our obligation is to protect our Nation and to protect those men and women who risk their lives to defend us. This bill fails that duty. By failing to renounce torture, it inflames an already dangerous world and makes new enemies for America in our war against terror. This puts cause or people and our troops at greater risk. That is why so many respected military leaders oppose this bill.

Throughout our history, America has led the world in promoting human rights and decency. We have fought wars against tyranny and oppression. Our enemies have employed tactics that were rightly and roundly condemned by the civilized world. We maintained American strength and honor by refusing to stoop to the level of our enemies. And we should not stoop to the level of the terrorists in the war on terror.

I rise to express my profound opposition to this bill both in terms of its substance and the procedure by which it reached the floor. The Armed Service Committee reported out a bill that I supported. That bill was not perfect, but it preserved our commitment to the Geneva Conventions, limited the possibility that detainees would be treated abusively and set up procedures for military tribunals that generally respected the fundamental requirements of fairness.

Republican members of the Armed Services Committee then began a process of secret negotiation with the White House that produced a bill that is far worse than the committee bill. Indeed, we have continued to see changes in that bill as it has been moved toward the floor in a rush to achieve passage before the Senate recesses for the election. This rush to passage to serve a political agenda is no way to produce careful and thoughtful legislation on profound issues of national security and civil liberties. At this point, most Members of this body hardly know what they are being asked to approve.

The bill as it now appears on the floor works profound and disastrous changes in our law.

This legislation sets out an overly broad definition of unlawful enemy combatant. This definition would allow the President to pick up anyone citizen and legal residents included anywhere around the world, and throw them into prison in Guantanamo without even charging or trying them. These people would never get a day in court to prove their innocence. There is no check whatsoever on the President's ability to detain people in an arbitrary manner.

We already know that our military has made mistakes in detaining people. We are currently holding dozens of people at Guanatanamo who we know based on the military's own records are not guilty of anything. Yet they have not been let go.

This legislation also makes a distinction between citizens and lawful permanent residents. Citizens cannot be subject to military commissions and their flawed procedures. Yet lawful permanent residents, those green card holders who are on the path to citizenship, could be sent to military commissions. Green Card holders must obey our laws, pay taxes, and register for the draft. They are serving our country in Iraq. They have an obligation to protect our laws, and they deserve the protection of those same laws.

The Geneva Conventions were adopted in the wake of the horrific atrocities during World War II. These conventions reflect the international consensus on how individuals should be treated in times of war. They set a minimum floor of humane treatment for all prisoners, military and civilian alike. This floor is known as Common Article 3 because it is common to all of the conventions. Yet this bill also gives the President authority to decide what conduct violates Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions. Again, the President's authority to define the meaning of Common Article 3 is virtually unreviewable. He is required to publish his interpretation in the Federal Register, but the administration has already made clear that it will not make public which interrogation tactics are being used. Moreover, the bill expressly states that the Geneva Conventions cannot be relied upon in any U.S. court as a source of rights. The President's interpretation may well likely escape judicial review, as well.

As the final method of concealing its activities, the administration has stripped the courts of their ability to review the confinement or treatment of detainees. The administration won a provision that eliminates the ability of any detainee anywhere in the world to file a habeas corpus petition challenging the justification for or conditions of his or her confinement. The provision applies to all existing petitions and would require their dismissal, including the Hamdan case itself. There is no justification for stripping courts of jurisdiction to issue the great writ of habeas corpus, which has been a foundation of our legal system with roots in the Magna Carta. The availability of the Great Writ is assured in the Constitution itself, which permits its suspension only in times of invasion or rebellion. This provision of the bill is most likely unconstitutional.

The administration has pursued a strategy to defeat accountability since it first began to take detainees into custody. It chose Guantanamo and secret prisons abroad because it thought U.S. law would not apply. It fought hard to prevent detainees from obtaining counsel and then argued that U.S. Courts lacked jurisdiction to hear detainees' complaints. It sought the prohibition on habeas corpus petitions adopted in the Detainee Treatment Act and then urged courts to misconstrue it to wipe out all pending habeas cases. This new effort to prohibit habeas petitions is a continuation of this effort to escape judicial scrutiny.

The bill also for the first time in our history would authorize the introduction of evidence obtained by torture in a judicial proceeding. Our courts have always rejected this type of evidence because it is inconsistent with fundamental notions of justice, and also because it is unreliable. We know that detainees were subjected to harsh interrogation techniques, and made statements as a result. Under this legislation, if those statements were made before the passage of the McCain Amendment last winter, then they are admissible. The Congress is saying for the first time in our nation's history that statements obtained by torture are admissible. This fact, alone, is a stunning statement about how far we have strayed from our bedrock values.

It defines conduct that can be prosecuted as a war crime in a very narrow way that appears designed to exclude many of the abusive interrogation practices that this administration has employed. While some have argued that cruel and inhumane practices such as waterboarding, induced hypothermia and sleep deprivation would surely be covered, the White House and the Republican leadership have refused to commit to this basic interpretation of the bill.

We tried to improve this bill. A number of amendments were offered and should have been adopted. I offered an amendment that responds to the lack of clarity about which practices are prohibited by the bill. Because the administration has refused to commit itself to stop using specific abusive interrogation procedures, our commitment to the standards of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions is in doubt. That puts our own people at risk. As military leaders have repeatedly stated, our adherence to the Geneva Conventions is essential to protect our own people around the world. America has thousands of people across the globe who do not wear uniforms, but put their lives on the line to protect this country every day. CIA agents, Special Forces members, contractors, journalists and others will all be less safe if we turn our backs on the standards of Common Article 3.

The bill as it has reached the floor would diminish the security and safety of Americans everywhere and further erode our civil liberties. I strongly oppose this bill.


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