Monday, July 16, 2007

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Terrorism and the law: in the United States/Terrorism and the law: in Germany

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Terrorism and the law: in the United States
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: July 15, 2007

The U.S. Congress and President George W. Bush are engaged in a profound debate over what the founding fathers intended when they divided the powers to declare and conduct war between two co-equal branches of government.

But on one thing, the Constitution is clear: Congress makes the rules on prisoners.

At least that is what it says in Article 1, Section 8, Paragraph 11 of the Constitution, which gives Congress the power to "make rules concerning captures on land and water." It is good that Congress seems finally ready to get back on the job. This week, the Senate will consider a bill that would restore to the prisoners of Guantánamo Bay the right to challenge their detention in court.

The Senate and then the House of Representatives must pass the bill with veto-proof majorities. But that is only a start. The White House and its Republican allies have managed to delay consideration of bills that would finally shut the prison at Guantánamo Bay and begin undoing the damage wrought by the Military Commissions Act of 2006. That national disgrace gave legal cover to secret prisons, kangaroo courts and the indefinite detention of prisoners without charges in a camp outside the United States.

Shutting Guantánamo will not be easy - and it will not be enough. Of about 375 inmates, the administration says only about 80 can be charged under the Military Commissions Act. Along with Guantánamo, the entire law needs to be scrapped. Prisoners against whom there is actual evidence of crimes should be tried either in military or federal courts. Mounting an effective prosecution may be hard, since these prisoners were held for years without charges and some were tortured. But it is up to the administration's lawyers, who helped Bush create the problem, to deal with it.

Human rights groups say there are about 30 inmates who should be released but have legitimate fear of persecution or torture if sent home. The administration reportedly has already sent back some vulnerable prisoners, after obtaining what it must know are worthless assurances of their safety. Congress should require notice of such transfers, real guarantees of protection for released prisoners, and a review of the deal by outside judicial authority.

That leaves around 265 prisoners who have been held for years in violation of American and international law because Bush decided they were illegal enemy combatants - even though most were captured while fighting the invasion of Afghanistan. Under pressure from the courts, the administration created Combatant Status Review Tribunals to rubber-stamp that designation. These tribunals must be disbanded and their rulings reviewed by courts. Inmates who are not security risks should be released, and the others held under normal articles of war.

President Bush, of course, wants Congress to simply endorse his arrogation of power. The New York Times reported recently that the White House is seeking support for legislation that would permit the long-term detention of foreigners on American soil without charges or appeal, just on Bush's say-so. Defense Secretary Robert Gates said "the biggest challenge is finding a statutory basis for holding prisoners who should never be released and who may or may not be able to be put on trial."

Challenge? The very idea is anathema to American democracy.

Congress did harm enough by tolerating Bush's lawless detainee policies, and then by passing the Military Commissions Act. Giving the president a dictator's power to select people for detention without charges on American soil would be an utter betrayal of their oath to support and defend the Constitution, and of the founders' vision of America.

International Herald Tribune Editorial - Terrorism and the law: in Germany
Copyright by The International Herald Tribune
Published: July 15, 2007

Germany has so far escaped the latest wave of terrorism suffered by the United States, Britain and Spain - but not by much. Some of the terrorists who attacked the United States on Sept. 11, 2001, used the German city of Hamburg as a base. Last July, would-be terrorists left deadly suitcase bombs on a German passenger train, but fortunately they failed to explode.

Following Britain's recent car-bomb incidents, Germany's interior minister, Wolfgang Schäuble, has proposed a range of antiterrorist measures that would alter the country's careful balance between civil liberties and government police powers. Some of his ideas, like preventive detention and government-ordered assassinations of terrorists abroad, are chilling. Others, like new laws against using the Internet to promote terrorism and providing a legal basis for the government to shoot down a hijacked airplane, may be worth considering.

Steps of this magnitude need to be seriously debated, something the U.S. Congress failed to do when the Bush administration sought far-reaching legal changes after the 2001 attacks. Clearly, Germany, like other Western democracies, needs to refine and update its legal tools for detecting and heading off terrorist threats. But it needs to proceed carefully. Panicky and ill-considered laws can undermine democracy as effectively as catastrophic terrorist attacks. One clear lesson of the Bush administration's abuses is that any secret surveillance powers granted to the German government must be subject to court oversight and review.

Germany's debate is colored by its own history. The parents and grandparents of today's German politicians grew up in Hitler's Reich. Some of those politicians, including Chancellor Angela Merkel, themselves grew up in the East German police state. These remembered traumas make today's Germans unusually sensitive to government incursions on civil liberties.

That is no bad thing. America's legal responses to Sept. 11 would probably have been wiser and done less damage to America's constitutional system and international reputation if the Bush administration had had to deal with a Congress and a voting public more attentive to the dangers of abusive and unchecked governmental powers.


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