Military Commissions Act: Wrong Choice for America

The Military Commissions Act passed by Congress last week represents a shocking assault on the fundamental freedoms and liberties we have been told that we are fighting to defend.


This bill will dramatically increase the President's right to detain men and women the world over, and to hold them indefinitely without charge. What is more, it will serve as a backdoor legalization of all but the most brutal of interrogation methods, taking our nation down a path we have chastised so many other countries for following.


On Thursday in the Senate, my friend and New York Delegation colleague Hillary Clinton told a story about our country's first great military leader, a man who went on to become our first great political leader. It is deeply relevant to the position in which we find ourselves today.


On Christmas Day in 1776, in the midst of the Revolutionary War, General George Washington launched a daring raid that culminated in the capture of numerous Hessian soldiers, foreign mercenaries known for their brutality and who were fighting for the British.


Despite what they had done to American soldiers on many previous occasions, Washington ordered his men to treat them humanely. "Let them have not reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British army," he said.


George Washington, the man who so influenced our national consciousness and who was so deeply responsible for who we are as a people, wanted the world to know that the new American Army did not abuse its prisoners of war. He also wanted to do whatever he could to win the hearts and minds of the Hessians. If even one came to see the virtue of America and lay down his arms, it would be a victory in the fight for our nation's freedom and independence.


I think we have heard some of the best arguments against this bill from General Washington's successors, the men and women who have held top positions of responsibility in our armed forces. They have told us over and over again that if we ignore our country's long-standing commitment to the rules of war and to international treaties like the Geneva Convention, we will be putting our own soldiers and our own nation at risk.


Opening the door to detainee abuse and indefinite detention will make our soldiers more likely to be tortured and dehumanized should they fall into enemy hands. And that means our own country will be less safe.


The simple truth is that a world based on the rule of law is more safe, not less safe, than a world based on power alone. To argue that those who opposed this detainee bill want to let terrorists roam free is both wrong and illogical. Suspected terrorists who have evidence against them will be convicted by courts of law - they will stay behind bars.


At the same time, a steadfast commitment to due process will both defend our most cherished freedoms and free the innocent from unwarranted punishment. Doing so will protect our liberty and deprive our enemies of one of the main tools used to recruit new followers.


If we reject legislation like the Military Commissions Act, we have the hope of showing the world that the United States practices what it preaches about freedom, democracy, and human dignity. We will bring others over to our side, and make them less likely to take up arms against us. There is a reason why Colin Powell recently warned us that the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight on terrorism. He said it because it is true, and because such a reality is a dangerous one.


What is more, humane interrogation methods will prevent us from chasing after ghosts, from following the fleeting leads of false confessions borne not from knowledge, but from desperation.


General Washington saw the value of a world based on law and principal over two hundred years ago, and he saw it at a time when his fledgling nation was truly in a fight for its very survival. For us to pass a bill that abandons some of the most fundamental principals of the civilization we have sworn to defend is an insult to all those who came before us, to all those who fought and struggled so that we could live free.


It is such a respect for law and eternal principals that this Administration - and far too many in this Republican Leadership - seem to lack. The proof lies in a provision of this bill which has received little notice so far, but that is profoundly revealing about its true nature.


Ten years ago, Congress passed a law called the "War Crimes Act." Under that bill, violating the Geneva Convention is a crime in the United States. The Administration argued that the Convention doesn't apply to "enemy combatants,