A Bill Born Out of Fear

Yesterday House Republicans, including my opponent in November, John Kline, approved legislation which violates many of the fundamental principles of American justice. This was not a vote to protect America; it was a vote to provide political cover for George Bush's feckless and incompetent leadership.

The only good news is that this bill explicitly prohibits 'cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment' of detainees. The bad news is that it gives the President the sole authority to determine what meets that standard. George Bush, who has demonstrated that he will pick and choose which laws and constitutional provisions to follow, will likely not feel bound by this provision. He has previously approved interrogation methods only slightly less painful and deadly than organ failure. And despite the prohibition on rough interrogation methods, including torture, information gathered by such methods will still be admissible in court.

Finally, and most egregiously, this bill explicitly denies habeas corpus, the right to challenge one's arrest and detention. It would make it legal for the U.S. to arrest any foreign national, anywhere, detain them indefinitely without charge or trial, and subject them to treatment which the President alone decides is humane. On roughly three dozen occasions that we know of, innocent victims of mistaken identity were abducted, subjected to brutal interrogations for months, and then abruptly released. This is blatantly un-American, and it is beyond belief that John Kline and the Republican-led House could, in good conscience, pass such legislation.

Republican leaders will say it makes America safer, but this claim is flat-out wrong. Just as those immigrants rounded up and held for months after 9-11 turned out to be innocent, the majority of those held in Abu Ghraib were also arrested by mistake; abusing them did not make America safer. There is scant evidence against many of those currently held at Guantanamo Bay, and some are known to be innocent; holding them does not make America safer.

Infiltrating and defeating terrorist networks requires reliable information; rough interrogation tactics such as waterboarding yield the opposite. We have already seen this play out: Ibn al-Shaykh al-Libi, a captured Al Qaeda operative, was tortured and falsely confessed that Saddam Hussein's government provided chemical and biological weapons training to terrorists. Months later, al-Libi recanted all his claims. The real-life consequences, however, cannot be understated: we are in Iraq based in part on bad intelligence obtained via torture.

And dismissing legal principles which have served America well for over two centuries does not make America safer; rather, it removes the moral authority America once held among nations, and diminishes what it means to be American.

This bill was born out of fear: George Bush's fear of being called to account. He was asleep at the wheel on 9/11. He was wrong about Saddam's ties to al Qaeda, wrong about Saddam's WMD. His ill-conceived invasion of Iraq has been a failure, and last summer, Bush literally fiddled while New Orleans drowned. George Bush knows he cannot keep America safe, so he is illegally tapping our phones, indefinitely detaining those labeled as 'enemy combatants', and ignoring centuries of established legal precedent in the desperate hope that he will stumble on a magical formula for success. He's asked Congress to give him cover for his cowardice, and John Kline and the GOP-led Congress were only too willing to comply. They placed political expedience above the principles that made this country great.

Shame on them. And shame on all of us if we don't stand up and declare that we the people will not be frightened into violating those principles.

Coleen Rowley is a candidate for Congress in Minnesota's 2nd District.