Tough and Principled: Democrats Reply to Military Tribunals

The following is a joint statement from House Democratic Whip Steny Hoyer and Ike Skelton, Ranking Democrat on the House Armed Services Committee:


The Republican claim that Democrats will not be tough on terrorism because many of us opposed the Republicans' Military Commissions Act is both offensive and untrue.

We are the Party of Wilson, Roosevelt, Truman, Kennedy and Clinton and we take a back seat to no one in protecting our nation and our people. We have always fought for freedom and confronted tyranny - and do so today.

Our national security interests are best served when we interrogate and try terrorist suspects in a manner that comports with our American values; produces convictions that will withstand appeals; and honors our international commitments, thereby protecting our troops who fall into enemy hands. We believe the Republican bill failed on each point.

We are surprised that some of the country's leading conservative voices, top among them The Wall Street Journal, apparently do not share our concern about giving this or future Administrations the unchecked powers that are authorized by this legislation. As conservatives often point out, the government does make mistakes. Indeed, one of the most egregious examples is that of the Canadian citizen who was mistakenly identified as a terrorist, "rendered" by American authorities to Syria, and then tortured there for 10 months.

If anything, the Military Commissions Act is not tough enough on terrorists because there is no certainty the Act will withstand scrutiny of the Supreme Court. If the Act is tied up in litigation and eventually struck down, convicted terrorists could have a "get-out-of-jail-free" card. During the debate on the legislation, we pointed to numerous constitutional challenges that will likely be brought against this Act, such as that it unlawfully strips federal courts of jurisdiction over habeas corpus claims; creates ex post facto laws in violation of Article I; purports to make the President the final arbiter of the Geneva Conventions, in violation of Article 3; and because of the way it is written, may apply to U.S. citizens - as well as non-citizens - and allow coerced testimony in violation of the 5th, 8th and 14th Amendments.

Finally, we cannot help but wonder: Do Republicans believe America has "coddled" Saddam Hussein? Here, after all, is a man who terrorized his people and allegedly consorted with terrorists. Yet, American authorities insisted - as we did 60 years ago in Nuremberg - that the accused be interrogated and given a fair, open trial.

America's national security is strengthened by a process that is consistent with our values, protects our soldiers and civilians, secures just convictions, and enhances our international credibility. The Republicans' Military Commissions Act does not establish such a process. That is why we opposed it.