Monday, October 16, 2006 6:47 PM

RTFB (Military Commissions Act)!

I've heard that Americans work more hours every week than workers in various European countries, or at least, that we have less free time. So that probably explains why so many people have not taken the time to actually *read the fine bill* that will be signed by President Bush into law tomorrow. For all of those folks, I have decided^Wbeen prodded into doing the following public service. I'm posting a description of the major parts of the bill, with text excerpts. Enjoy... err, so to speak.

First things first: the bill defines what the term "unlawful enemy combatant" (UEC) means. Any person who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the U.S., *or* any person so designated by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal (CSRT) or a competent tribunal designated by the President or Secretary of Defense. Here's the text:

     (1) UNLAWFUL ENEMY COMBATANT.—(A) The term ‘unlaw-
>ful enemy combatant’ means—
           (i) a person who has engaged in hostilities or who
     has purposefully and materially supported hostilities
     against the United States or its co-belligerents who is
     not a lawful enemy combatant (including a person who
     is part of the Taliban, al Qaeda, or associated forces);
           (ii) a person who, before, on, or after the date of
     the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006,
     has been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant
     by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal or another com-
     petent tribunal established under the authority of the
     President or the Secretary of Defense.

That second part of the definition does seem pretty broad, doesn't it? It doesn't set forth any requirements upon how a CSRT or other tribunal makes that determination; it seems to say that the act of designating someone as a UEC makes them one, for the purposes of this Act.

I expect that folks will make the legal argument that this cannot be what was intended when the bill was passed. However, given that, in the past, the current Administration has claimed the power to designate any person of its choosing as a UEC, to hold that persosn indefinitely, and to hold that person without any judicial review of the person's status or conditions of confinement, including U.S. citizens, perhaps this broad definition may well be intentional. (The claim of unchecked power of the executive in a war context has been labelled the theory of theunitary executive.)

Part 1 of the definition is troubling in and of itself; "purposefully and materially supporting hostilities', I suppose, means "purposefully and materially supporting" terrorists, if we are talking about the War on Terror. This sounds pretty reasonable, but the problem is that supporting terror seems to be used these days to depict folks who don't agree with or support the current Administration's agenda. Here are some representative examples from the press:

During Kerry's campaign for president, Bush, Orrin Hatch, Dennis Haster, and various others all charged that Kerry and his backers were giving comfort to terrorists. In March of this year, Sen. Wayne Allard argued that Feingold has time and time again taken on the side of the terrorists when Feingold introduced a resolution to censure Bush. Most recently, the National Republican Senate Committee said that two Repbulican Senators who voted for Specter's amendment to the MCA to put habeas corpus back into the bill had "sided with trial lawyers and terrorists, even though they voted for the final version of the bill.

But lest you think these sort of remarks are simple grandstanding, I direct your attention to a collection of documents obtained by the ACLU about Pentagon and Homeland Security surveillance of various anti-war or other student groups. The documents date from 2001 through 2006, and include coverage of such groups as Students Against War from UC Santa Cruz, and an antiwar group that protested at the Oakland Docks in 2003, where police opened fire with so-called "less-than-lethal" weapons, resulting in worldwide coverage and subsequent inclusion of the incident in that year's UN Human Rights report.

That's all for today. Part two coming soon...