Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Habeas Corpus, troop rest time killed by Republicans

Two bills were blocked by Senate Republicans, who again threatened the filibuster to demand 60 votes to pass it, instead of a simple majority, because they know they would lose if it came to a simple majority vote.

First up, restoring habeas corpus for even detainees, which was taken away in last year's abhorrent Military Commissions Act of 2006. It failed, 56-43. You can see the Roll Call vote here. Forget a "pre-9/11 mentality", this is a pre-1215 mentality. (Magna Carta, boys and girls.)

Even with 6 Republican votes, we didn't have enough. And if anyone was still unsure of where Joe Lieberman stands, he voted WITH 42 Republicans to kill it. America has been seen as the defender of human rights across the world. No more. Understand what this implies, from Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-VT):

The sweep of this habeas provision goes far beyond the few hundred detainees currently held at Guantanamo Bay, and it includes an estimated 12 million lawful permanent residents in the United States today. These are people who work and pay taxes, people who abide by our laws and should be entitled to fair treatment. Under this law, any of these people can be detained, forever, without any ability to challenge their detention in court.

This is wrong. It is unconstitutional. It is un-American.

The arguments against restoring habeas corpus are also ridiculous. John Kerry explained why last year.

Mr. President, a veteran of the Iraq War whom I know, Paul Rieckhoff, wrote something the other day that every Senator ought to think about as they wrestle with this bill.

He wrote that he was taught at Fort Benning, Georgia about the importance of the Geneva Conventions. He didn’t know what it meant until he arrived in Baghdad. Paul wrote,

America’s moral integrity was the single most important weapon my platoon had on the streets of Iraq. It saved innumerable lives, encouraged cooperation with our allies and deterred Iraqis from joining the growing insurgency. But those days are over. America’s moral standing has eroded, thanks to its flawed rationale for war and scandals like Abu Ghraib, Guantánamo and Haditha. The last thing we can afford now is to leave Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions open to reinterpretation, as President Bush proposed to do and can still do under the compromise bill that emerged last week.”

We each need to ask ourselves, in the rush to find a “compromise” we can all embrace, are we strengthening Americas’ moral authority or eroding it? Are we on the sides of the thousands of Paul Rieckhoffs in uniform today, or are we making their mission harder and even worse, putting them in greater danger if they are captured?

Paul writes eloquently,

“If America continues to erode the meaning of the Geneva Conventions, we will cede the ground upon which to prosecute dictators and warlords. We will also become unable to protect our troops if they are perceived as being no more bound by the rule of law than dictators and warlords themselves. The question facing America is not whether to continue fighting our enemies in Iraq and beyond but how to do it best. My soldiers and I learned the hard way that policy at the point of a gun cannot, by itself, create democracy. The success of America’s fight against terrorism depends more on the strength of its moral integrity than on troop numbers in Iraq or the flexibility of interrogation options.”

Mr. President, I wish I could say this compromise serves Americas’ moral mission and protects our troops. But it doesn’t. No eloquence we can bring to this debate can change what this bill fails to do.

The second thing was the Dwell Time Amendment put forth by Sen. Jim Webb (D-VA), former Secretary of the Navy under Reagan, and Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE). Both are very decorated Vietnam vets. They understand the military and how it works. All this would require is that our troops get the same amount of time at home to rest and recover as the length of their deployment. We're sending troops back into the field with less and less recovery time, and it's putting a strain on our brave soldiers. This is unconscionable. As Webb wrote:

We will be offering an amendment that requires our troops have a 1:1 deployment-to-dwell ratio for active units and members. This is a minimum floor. The Department of Defense's historic policy and current goal is a ratio of 1:2. Currently, Army units are deployed for 15 months with 12 months at home. It is not unusual for Marines also to have less time at home than the length of their last deployment.

This amendment is vital to the continued morale and effectiveness of our Armed Forces, which are breaking under the strain of unprecedented long deployments in combat zones.

And while John McCain tried to claim Webb's amendment is unconstitutional, Webb told him to go read the actual Constitution to learn a thing or two.

Sadly, the Webb amendment also failed 56-44. Roll Call vote here. Again, 6 Republicans joined with all the Democrats, but it wasn't enough to get to that 60 mark to stop a filibuster threat. Lieberman, of course, voted with the other 43 Republicans (Saxby Chambliss of Georgia wasn't there for the habeas vote).

Senate Republicans today showed what they really think about the troops. "Support the troops", indeed. What a crock.

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