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BPFNA Calls for Action on "Military Commissions Act"

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September 15, 2006 | bpfna

The following is the text of an e-mail appeal sent to BPFNA members and friends on September 14, 2006.

BPFNA is calling on you to speak out in opposition to recently-introduced legislation that changes drastically the way U.S. military commissions conduct trials of "alien unlawful enemy combants". These changes include disregard for a provision of the Geneva Conventions, the decriminalization of brutal interrogation methods and the creation of a judical structure that does not provide for due process.

BACKGROUND

At the annual meeting at the 2006 Summer Conference in Atlanta, Georgia, BPFNA members endorsed the statement of the National Religious Campaign Against Torture (NRCAT), "Torture Is a Moral Issue". Maintaining that all religions believe that torture violates the basic dignity of human beings, the statement calls for the US Congress and Administration to prohibit five activities:

 

  • Exemptions from international human rights laws for any arm of the US government
  • The practice of extraordinary rendition (whereby suspects are apprehended and flown to countries that use torture as a means of interrogation
  • Any disconnection from the ban against torture that would permit inhumane interrogation
  • The existence of secret US prisons around the world
  • The denial of Red Cross access to US detainees

The statement also calls for an independent investigation of the severe human rights abuses at US installation like Guantanamo, AbuGhraib, and Bagram Air Force Base in Afghanistan.

A CALL TO ACTION

Today, we are calling on you to contact your Senators and Representative urgently to tell them that you oppose the Administration's recently-introduced Military Commission Act of 2006 (S.3861, H.R.6054). From NRCAT, here's a summary of what the Act would do:

1. Guts U.S. support for one of the most important provisions of the Geneva Conventions ("Common Article 3," so-called because the same article is in all four Geneva Conventions).

  • Common Article 3 says that there is a minimum level of treatment that will be provided to all prisoners no matter what.
  • The US has always strongly supported Common Article 3 as an essential protection for our own servicemembers.
  • The Administration bill says that our obligations under Common Article 3 should be dramatically narrowed, sending the wrong message to the world and putting our own servicemembers at risk.

2. Decriminalizes brutal interrogation methods. Under current law, violations of Common Article 3 are considered "war crimes" that can be prosecuted under the U.S. War Crimes Act.

  • The proposal says that only some brutal treatment should be a crime.
  • The Administration's proposal appears designed to preserve the right for the CIA to "waterboard" prisoners and use other brutal methods.
  • The Administration says it needs "clarity" and "certainty" about what is prohibited. That is false. We have clarity now. Waterboarding and other brutal techniques are illegal. The Administration's proposal creates ambiguity, not clarity, about how far our interrogators can go.

3. Creates a "Kangaroo Court" system of military courts without due process or genuine judicial oversight. The Supreme Court just struck down the Administration's system because it lacked elements of fairness considered essential "by all civilized nations." Now the Administration is at it again.

  • Experts, including many military lawyers, urged the Administration to use the U.S. court martial system. The Administration refused and has proposed a system which may be struck down by the Court yet again, causing further delay in having real trials for those accused of planning the 9/11 attacks.
  • Military lawyers serving in the Administration testified that the Administration's proposals contained unfair provisions not used anywhere else in the world that has genuine rule of law. An administration witness admitted we would never accept this system if it was applied to our own servicemembers.
  • The proposal allows the use of evidence obtained through coercion and secret evidence never shown to the accused. It has no genuine independent oversight and the bill strips the ability of prisoners to use habeas petitions - one of the most important provisions in our system.

(From www.nrcat.org/military_commisions_act.aspx, September 14, 2006.)

The full text of S.3861 as originally introduced can be found at: http://www.congress.gov/cgi-bin/bdquery/z?d109:S.3861:

HOW TO CONTACT

Go to www.house.gov and www.senate.gov to find your Senators and Representative, then follow the links to get information on how to contact them. Mailing addresses and phone numbers should be readily available through links at the top of pages, and you will find forms to use to contact them electronically. Based on your own reaction to the proposed Military Commissions Act, compose a personal response to this issue. Personal messages carry more weight than copied letters.

FIND OUT MORE

To find out more about the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, visit their website at www.nrcat.org.



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