The controversial legislation that establishes military tribunals and the rules for trying captured terrorists passed the House yesterday afternoon, on a somewhat bipartisan vote. It now heads to the Senate for debate, but so far it appears to have enough support to pass:
The House this afternoon approved a new approach to interrogating and trying terror suspects and the Senate opened debate on the legislation, as Congress sought to create a system that could wring information from terrorists and bring them to justice in a way that meets court scrutiny.
Despite serious objections from some Democrats and a few Republicans, the legislation appeared headed to approval, delivering Republicans and President Bush one of the accomplishments on national security they hoped to achieve before the election. The bill passed the House by a vote of 253 to 168.
“The time to act is now,” said Senator Bill Frist, the majority leader, as he opened the Senate debate after reaching an agreement with Democrats to limit efforts the alter the bill and bring it to a vote as early as Thursday.
Backers of the measure said the legislation — sought by President Bush after the Supreme Court in June struck down the administration’s system for trying detainees — would guarantee terror suspects adequate rights while not hindering the interrogators who seek information from them. …
Leading Democrats said the bill would allow the Bush administration to detain suspects indefinitely without offering them any appeal in court and could result in government-sanctioned mistreatment of detainees. They predicted it would be again thrown out by the Supreme Court, leaving the United States remaining without a system to try terrorists after a wait that has already extended five years beyond the attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.
The House version got more support than I would have predicted. It passed 253-168, with 34 Democrats joining all but 7 Republicans in approval. Only 12 failed to cast a vote on HR 6166, and one of them was Bob Ney, who just pled guilty to corruption charges and has not participated in Congress of late. One of the Democrats supporting the bill was Colln Peterson of Minnesota.
Most Democrats opposed the bill and most will do so in the Senate during the upcoming debate, and they will have some Republicans for company. Arlen Specter has already said that he has serious objections to the bill, although he did say that it had substantially improved since its first drafts. The concessions came from White House negotiations with John McCain and Lindsay Graham, among others, but whether it attracts any significant cross-aisle support remains to be seen. Most of the objections of Democrats come from the interrogation techniques it still allows, while Specter complained about evidentiary and procedural rules for the tribunals.
We have been kept safe by the use of strenuous interrogations that have yielded information that saved hundreds or thousands of American lives. I don’t believe we should torture people, but techniques such as sleep deprivation and cold rooms simply don’t qualify. Even waterboarding, to which McCain objects so vociferously, causes no damage other than panic and is used in training our own pilots. No one has suggested that the military tortures its officers through the use of this training. If it’s good enough for our own men and women in uniform, then it should be good enough for the terrorists.
I’m with Duncan Hunter, who pointed out that these terrorists are not analogous to criminals in our civil justice system. They have explicitly made war against the United States and as such have waived any benefits of our system of justice. The sole aim of these tribunals should only be to ensure that no mistake of identity has been made. We owe them nothing, and our goal should be efficiency. If they have representation and we have basic rules of due process, that’s better than the societies from which they came and towards which they persevere in their terrorism.
Note: The New York Times has an interesting method of reporting this story. Note that they have three quotes in opposition to the bill and only one in support of it.