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Context of 'June 28, 2004: Supreme Court Rules that US Citizens Declared ‘Enemy Combatants’ Can Challenge Their Detention'

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The US Congress adopts a joint resolution, the Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), that determines that “the president is authorized to use all necessary and appropriate force against those nations, organizations, or persons he determines planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored such organizations or persons, in order to prevent any future acts of international terrorism against the United States by such nations, organizations or persons.” Congress also states that the “grave acts of violence” committed on the US “continue to pose an unusual and extraordinary threat to [its] national security and foreign policy.” [US Congress, 9/14/2001] President Bush signs the resolution into law on September 18. [White House, 9/18/2001] The passage of the AUMF served another purpose: to extend presidential power. While the Defense Department and the Joint Chiefs of Staff intended the AUMF to define the conflict in narrow terms, and authorize the US to move militarily against al-Qaeda and its confederates, and the Taliban, Vice President Dick Cheney and his chief of staff, David Addington, had a larger goal. Attorney Scott Horton, who has written two major studies on interrogation of terrorism suspects for the New York City Bar Association, says in 2005 that Cheney and Addington “really wanted [the AUMF defined more broadly], because it provided the trigger for this radical redefinition of presidential power.” Addington helped draft a Justice Department opinion in late 2001, written by lawyer John Yoo (see Late September 2001), that asserted Congress cannot “place any limits on the president’s determinations as to any terrorist threat, the amount of military force to be used in response, or the method, timing, and nature of the response.” [US News and World Report, 5/21/2006]

Entity Tags: US Department of Defense, Taliban, Scott Horton, Joint Chiefs of Staff, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, David S. Addington, George W. Bush, John C. Yoo, Al-Qaeda, Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF)

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Yaser Esam Hamdi in Afghanistan shortly after being captured there.Yaser Esam Hamdi in Afghanistan shortly after being captured there. [Source: Virginian Pilot]Yaser Esam Hamdi, who holds dual Saudi and US citizenship, is captured in Afghanistan by the Northern Alliance and handed over to US forces. According to the US government, at the time of his arrest, Hamdi carries a Kalashnikov assault rifle and is traveling with a Taliban military unit. The following month he will be transferred to Guantanamo. In April 2002, it will be discovered he is a US citizen. He will be officially be declared an “enemy combatant” and transferred to a Navy brig in Norfolk, Virginia (see April 2002). [CNN, 10/14/2004]

Entity Tags: Yaser Esam Hamdi

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, War in Afghanistan

A Supreme Court Justice, during the oral arguments in the cases of Jose Padilla and Yaser Esam Hamdi, asks how the Court can be certain that government interrogators are not abusing detainees. Deputy Solicitor General Paul Clement answers that the court will have to “trust the executive to make the kind of quintessential military judgments that are involved in things like that.” [First, 6/2004 pdf file] The government’s legal strategy is so inflexible in part because of Vice President Cheney, who through his lawyer David Addington refuses to allow the Justice Department to budge from its intransigent position. For months, Solicitor General Theodore Olson and his deputy, Clement, have pled for modest shifts in policy that would bolster their arguments in court. Hamdi has languished in a Navy brig for two and a half years without a hearing or a lawyer. British citizen Shafiq Rasul has been held under similar conditions at Guantanamo for even longer (see November 28, 2001 and January 11, 2002-April 30, 2002). Olson says that Cheney’s position—the president has unlimited authority to order the indefinite detention of anyone suspected of terrorist activity without benefit of counsel or any judiciary intervention—would be easier to argue in court if he could “show them that you at least have some system of due process in place” to ensure against wrongful detention, according to a senior Justice Department official familiar with the issue. But Addington wins the argument, overriding Olson and the Justice Department by his arguments that any such retreat would restrict the freedom of future presidents and open the door to further lawsuits. The Supreme Court will find against Cheney in both the Hamdi (see June 28, 2004) and Rasul (see June 28, 2004) cases. Olson will resign as solicitor general 11 days later. [Washington Post, 6/25/2007]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, David S. Addington, Jose Padilla, Paul Clement, Richard (“Dick”) Cheney, Theodore (“Ted”) Olson, Shafiq Rasul, Yaser Esam Hamdi, US Supreme Court

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Yaser Esam Hamdi.Yaser Esam Hamdi. [Source: Associated Press]In the case of Yaser Esam Hamdi v. Donald Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court rules 8-1 that, contrary to the government’s position, Hamdi (see December 2001), as a US citizen held inside the US, cannot be held indefinitely and incommunicado without an opportunity to challenge his detention. It rules he has the right to be given the opportunity to challenge the basis for his detention before an impartial court. Justice Sandra Day O’Connor writes for the majority: “It would turn our system of checks and balances on its head to suggest that a citizen could not make his way to court with a challenge to the factual basis for his detention by his government, simply because the Executive opposes making available such a challenge. Absent suspension of the writ by Congress, a citizen detained as an enemy combatant is entitled to this process.” Hamdi, on the other hand, apart from military interrogations and “screening processes,” has received no process. Due process, according to a majority of the Court, “demands some system for a citizen detainee to refute his classification [as enemy combatant].” A “citizen-detainee… must receive notice of the factual basis for his classification, and a fair opportunity to rebut the government’s factual assertions before a neutral decision-maker.” However, O’Connor writes, “an interrogation by one’s captor… hardly constitutes a constitutionally adequate factfinding before a neutral decisionmaker.”
Conservative Dissent: President Has Inherent Power to Detain Citizens during War - Only Justice Clarence Thomas affirms the government’s opinion, writing, “This detention falls squarely within the federal government’s war powers, and we lack the expertise and capacity to second-guess that decision.” [Supreme Court opinion on writ of certiorari. Shafiq Rasul, et al. v. George W. Bush, et al., 6/28/2004] Thomas adds: “The Founders intended that the president have primary responsibility—along with the necessary power—to protect the national security and to conduct the nation’s foreign relations. They did so principally because the structural advantages of a unitary executive are essential in these domains.” [Dean, 2007, pp. 105]
'A State of War Is Not a Blank Check for the President' - The authority to hold Hamdi and other such US citizens captured on enemy battlefields derives from Congress’s Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF—see September 14-18, 2001). Justice Antonin Scalia dissents from this portion of the majority ruling, saying that because Congress had not suspended habeas corpus, Hamdi should either be charged with a crime or released. The Court also finds that if Hamdi was indeed a missionary and not a terrorist, as both he and his father claim, then he must be freed. While the Court does not grant Hamdi the right to a full criminal trial, it grants him the right to a hearing before a “neutral decision-maker” to challenge his detention. O’Connor writes: “It is during our most challenging and uncertain moments that our nation’s commitment to due process is most severely tested; and it is in these times that we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles for which we fight abroad.… We have long made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the nation’s citizens.”
Affirms President's Right to Hold US Citizens Indefinitely - Although the media presents the ruling as an unmitigated defeat for the Bush administration, it is actually far more mixed. The White House is fairly pleased with the decision, insamuch as Hamdi still has no access to civilian courts; the administration decides that Hamdi’s “neutral decision-maker” will be a panel of military officers. Hamdi will not have a lawyer, nor will he have the right to see the evidence against him if it is classified. This is enough to satisfy the Court’s ruling, the White House decides. In 2007, author and reporter Charlie Savage will write: “[T]he administration’s legal team noted with quiet satisfaction that, so long as some kind of minimal hearing was involved, the Supreme Court had just signed off on giving presidents the wartime power to hold a US citizen without charges or a trial—forever.” The Justice Department says of the ruling that it is “pleased that the [Court] today upheld the authority of the president as commander in chief of the armed forces to detain enemy combatants, including US citizens.… This power, which was contested by lawyers representing individuals captured in the War on Terror, is one of the most essential authorities the US Constitution grants the president to defend America from our enemies.” [Savage, 2007, pp. 193-194]

Entity Tags: Sandra Day O’Connor, Antonin Scalia, Donald Rumsfeld, Yaser Esam Hamdi, Clarence Thomas, Charlie Savage

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

Jack Goldsmith, the head of the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC), sends a classified memo to Attorney General John Ashcroft. The contents of the memo remain secret, but the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) will later learn that the memo concerns the ramifications of a recent Supreme Court decision on gathering foreign intelligence. Presumably, Goldsmith is writing about the Hamdi decision, in which the Court ruled that enemy combatants and detainees have the right to due process in the US justice system (see June 28, 2004), but this is by no means certain. [American Civil Liberties Union [PDF], 1/28/2009 pdf file]

Entity Tags: Jack Goldsmith, American Civil Liberties Union, US Supreme Court, US Department of Justice, Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), John Ashcroft

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Jacob Hornberger.Jacob Hornberger. [Source: Institute for Historical Review]Jacob Hornberger, the president of the Future of Freedom Foundation, writes that the Pentagon has learned “when the judiciary issues an order, the Pentagon is required to obey it,” which is “why the government is now permitting Ali Saleh al-Marri to meet with his attorney as part of his habeas corpus proceeding in federal district court in South Carolina.” Al-Marri is one of three “enemy combatants” (see June 23, 2003) designated by President Bush. Until recently, the Pentagon had refused to allow al-Marri to contact his lawyers, who have been challenging his detention and enemy combatant status in the US courts, but a recent Supreme Court decision scotched that procedure (see June 28, 2004). Hornberger compares al-Marri’s treatment to that of ousted Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein, whom Iraqi and US officials have restricted from consulting with his own lawyers in Iraq. Al-Marri, before being removed from the US judicial system, “would have been entitled to all the rights and guarantees recognized in the Constitution and Bill of Rights, including being informed of the charges against him, compulsory process of witnesses, cross-examination of adverse witnesses, assistance of counsel, and a jury trial,” Hornberger writes. “If the jury had acquitted him, as juries recently did with defendants in federal terrorism cases brought in Detroit and Boise, he would have walked away from the federal courtroom a free man. By removing al-Marri from the jurisdiction of the federal court on the eve of his trial and placing him into military custody as an ‘enemy combatant,’ the Justice Department and the Pentagon, working together, effectively hijacked our criminal justice system and sabotaged our constitutional order.” [Atlanta Inquirer, 8/21/2004; Future of Freedom Foundation, 2007]

Entity Tags: George W. Bush, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, US Department of Defense, Saddam Hussein, Jacob Hornberger

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives

Accused terrorist Yaser Esam Hamdi returns to Saudi Arabia aboard a US military jet. Earlier in 2004, the US Supreme Court ruled that the US government could not continue to hold Hamdi, a US citizen, as an enemy combatant without allowing him to challenge that status (see June 28, 2004). The US government was still free to bring charges against him but instead chose to negotiate with his attorneys about a release. In exchange for his release, Hamdi agrees to renounce his US citizenship and pledge never to travel to Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel, Pakistan, Syria, the Palestinian West Bank, or Gaza. He must also report any intent to travel outside Saudi Arabia. [CNN, 10/14/2004]
'Shocking Admission' of Lack of Criminal Case against Hamdi - Andrew Cohen comments in the Los Angeles Times, “If Hamdi is such a minor threat today that he can go back to the Middle East without a trial or any other proceeding, it’s hard not to wonder whether the government has been crying wolf all these years.” He calls the release “a shocking admission from the government that there is not now, and probably never has been, a viable criminal case against Hamdi.” [Los Angeles Times, 8/16/2004]
Hamdi Case Used to Set Favorable Precedent? - Author and reporter Charlie Savage will agree with Cohen. “Hamdi’s release meant that a prisoner who the White House had once sworn was too dangerous to be allowed access to a lawyer was now going free—just like hundreds of prisoners from Guantanamo who were held without trial for years and then quietly released,” Savage will write. He will note that many administration critics believe Hamdi’s case had been used as a tool by the administration to get a favorable judicial precedent and, once that precedent had been put in place, the administration had no more use for Hamdi and threw him out of the country rather than actually continue with a problematic trial or legal proceeding. [Savage, 2007, pp. 199-200]

Entity Tags: Charlie Savage, Yaser Esam Hamdi, Andrew Cohen

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Complete 911 Timeline, Civil Liberties

The Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals rules that President Bush, as commander in chief, can continue to hold Jose Padilla (see June 9, 2002), a US citizen arrested on US soil (see June 8, 2002), indefinitely as an enemy combatant. Padilla is to be treated the same as an American captured on a foreign battlefield (see June 28, 2004). The majority ruling is written by Judge J. Michael Luttig, often thought of as a potential Bush Supreme Court nominee. Luttig rules there is “no difference in principle between [Yaser Esam] Hamdi (see June 28, 2004) and Padilla.” Bush’s “powers include the power to detain identified and committed enemies such as Padilla, who associated with al-Qaeda and the Taliban regime, and who entered the United States for the avowed purpose of further prosecuting [terrorism] by attacking American citizens and targets on our own soil.” Luttig ignores the fact that Padilla has never been charged, much less convicted, of any crime. When the Bush administration later charges Padilla as an ordinary criminal—and does not charge him with with any of the terrorist activities it had long alleged he had committed—many administration critics will conclude that, just as in the Hamdi case, the administration had used inflammatory rhetoric and baseless charges to obtain a judicial decision it wanted (see October 10, 2004). When Luttig learns of the administration’s actions, he will issue a supplementary opinion excoriating the White House (see December 21, 2005). [Savage, 2007, pp. 200]

Entity Tags: Jose Padilla, J. Michael Luttig

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and NSA chief Lieutenant General Michael Hayden conduct their own “briefing” on the recently revealed NSA wiretapping program (see December 15, 2005) with the White House press corps. Gonzales and Hayden make the following points:
bullet Gonzales says that he will not discuss the internal workings of the still-classified program, only what he calls its “legal underpinnings.”
bullet He claims that the program, which he calls “the most classified program that exists in the United States government,” is legal because President Bush authorized it, and says that the idea that “the United States is somehow spying on American citizens” is wrong: it is “[v]ery, very important to understand that one party to the communication has to be outside the United States.”
bullet He says that for the NSA to eavesdrop on a US citizen’s telephone or e-mail communications, “we have to have a reasonable basis to conclude that one party to the communication is a member of al-Qaeda, affiliated with al-Qaeda, or a member of an organization affiliated with al-Qaeda, or working in support of al-Qaeda.” The wiretapping program is an essential part of the administration’s war against terror, he says.
bullet He goes on to claim that “the authorization to use force, which was passed by the Congress in the days following September 11th, constitutes” legal grounds for “this kind of signals intelligence.” [White House, 12/19/2005] The White House signed Congress’s Authorization to Use Military Force (AUMF) into law on September 18, 2001 (see September 14-18, 2001. [White House, 9/18/2001]
Hayden Claims Supreme Court Backing - While he admits that the Congressional authorization to use force against international terrorism does not specifically mention any kind of electronic surveillance, he refers the listeners to the Supreme Court case concerning alleged US terrorist Yaser Esam Hamdi (see June 28, 2004), in which the Court ruled that Hamdi had the legal right to challenge his detention. “[T]he United States government took the position that Congress had authorized that detention in the authorization to use force, even though the authorization to use force never mentions the word ‘detention.’ And the Supreme Court, a plurality written by Justice O’Connor agreed. She said, it was clear and unmistakable that the Congress had authorized the detention of an American citizen captured on the battlefield as an enemy combatant for the remainder—the duration of the hostilities. So even though the authorization to use force did not mention the word, ‘detention,’ she felt that detention of enemy soldiers captured on the battlefield was a fundamental incident of waging war, and therefore, had been authorized by Congress when they used the words, ‘authorize the President to use all necessary and appropriate force.’ For the same reason, we believe signals intelligence is even more a fundamental incident of war, and we believe has been authorized by the Congress. And even though signals intelligence is not mentioned in the authorization to use force, we believe that the Court would apply the same reasoning to recognize the authorization by Congress to engage in this kind of electronic surveillance.”
Bush 'Very Concerned' With Protecting Civil Liberties - Gonzales insists, Bush “is very concerned about the protection of civil liberties, and that’s why we’ve got strict parameters, strict guidelines in place out at NSA to ensure that the program is operating in a way that is consistent with the President’s directives.” He adds, “[W]e feel comfortable that this surveillance is consistent with requirements of the Fourth Amendment. The touchstone of the Fourth Amendment is reasonableness, and the Supreme Court has long held that there are exceptions to the warrant requirement in—when special needs outside the law enforcement arena. And we think that that standard has been met here.”
Wiretapping Essential in Catching Terrorists - Hayden reiterates how important the wiretapping is to catching terrorists and stopping potential attacks against US targets, though he and Gonzales both refuse to say what, if any, terrorist plots or what terror suspects might have been captured through the NSA wiretapping program. Hayden does say, “This program has been successful in detecting and preventing attacks inside the United States.…I can say unequivocally, all right, that we have got information through this program that would not otherwise have been available,” though he refuses to cite specifics. He admits that there have been some errors in surveilling innocent US citizens, though he refuses to give any details, and says those errors were quickly corrected.
Administration Not Required to Go Through FISA - Gonzales, who is the main speaker in the briefing, reiterates that while the administration continues to seek warrants from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) court, “we are not legally required to do, in this particular case, because the law requires that we—FISA requires that we get a court order, unless authorized by a statute, and we believe that authorization has occurred.” He justifies the administration’s refusal to use the FISA court for obtaining warrants by insisting that NSA officials “tell me that we don’t have the speed and the agility that we need, in all circumstances, to deal with this new kind of enemy. You have to remember that FISA was passed by the Congress in 1978. There have been tremendous advances in technology… since then.” Hayden adds, “I don’t think anyone could claim that FISA was envisaged as a tool to cover armed enemy combatants in preparation for attacks inside the United States. And that’s what this authorization under the President is designed to help us do.”
'Balancing' of Civil Liberties, National Security - Hayden says the warrantless wiretapping program is part of “a balancing between security and liberty,” a more “aggressive” operation “than would be traditionally available under FISA. It is also less intrusive. It deals only with international calls. It is generally for far shorter periods of time. And it is not designed to collect reams of intelligence, but to detect and warn and prevent about attacks. And, therefore, that’s where we’ve decided to draw that balance between security and liberty.”
Media Leaks Damaging to National Security - Gonzales refuses to talk about when any members of Congress were briefed on the program or what they were told, but he does imply that there will be some sort of leak investigation as to how the New York Times found out about the program: “[T]his is really hurting national security, this has really hurt our country, and we are concerned that a very valuable tool has been compromised. As to whether or not there will be a leak investigation, we’ll just have to wait and see.”
No Evidence of Compromised National Security - When asked whether he can cite any evidence that the revelation of the program’s existence has actually compromised anything—“Don’t you assume that the other side thinks we’re listening to them? I mean, come on,” one reporter says—Gonzales responds, rather confusingly, “I think the existence of this program, the confirmation of the—I mean, the fact that this program exists, in my judgment, has compromised national security, as the President indicated on Saturday.”
Easier to Sidestep FISA Instead of Seek Congressional Approval - He does admit that the administration decided to sidestep the FISA court entirely instead of attempt to work with Congress to rewrite the FISA statutes because “we were advised that that would be difficult, if not impossible” to amend the law to the White House’s satisfaction. Gonzales says those who are concerned about the program being excessively intrusive or a threat to American civil liberties simply “don’t understand the specifics of the program, they don’t understand the strict safeguards within the program.… Part of the reason for this press brief today is to have you help us educate the American people and the American Congress about what we’re doing and the legal basis for what we’re doing.” He adds that any legal experts who believe the program is illegal are basing their judgments “on very limited information.”
Tough Questioning - One reporter asks an unusually tough series of questions to Gonzales: “Do you think the government has the right to break the law?”, to which Gonzales replies, “Absolutely not. I don’t believe anyone is above the law.” The reporter then says, “You have stretched this resolution for war into giving you carte blanche to do anything you want to do,” to which Gonzales replies cryptically, “Well, one might make that same argument in connection with detention of American citizens, which is far more intrusive than listening into a conversation.” The reporter insists, “You’re never supposed to spy on Americans,” and Gonzales deflects the responsibility for the decision back onto the Supreme Court.
Administration Will Tell Nation What It Needs to Know - Gonzales says the administration has no intention of releasing any of the classified legal opinions underpinning the program, and this press briefing is one of the methods by which the administration will “educat[e] the American people…and the Congress” to give them what they need to know about the program. [White House, 12/19/2005]

Entity Tags: White House press corps, Michael Hayden, Al-Qaeda, National Security Agency, Alberto R. Gonzales, George W. Bush, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Suzanne Spaulding, a former counsel for the CIA, the Senate and House intelligence commission, and executive director of the National Terrorism Commission from 1999 through 2000, writes an op-ed criticizing the Bush administration for its domestic surveillance program. She writes that the three main sources of oversight and restraint on Bush’s unfettered efforts to monitor US citizens—Congress, the judiciary, and the American people—have failed to halt what she calls “this extraordinary exercise of presidential power.” Spaulding, who will testify along similar lines before the Senate over a year later (see April 11, 2007), writes, “Ironically, if it is ultimately determined that this domestic surveillance program reflects the exercise of unchecked power in contravention of law, it will wind up weakening the presidency. Once again, we will confront the challenge of restoring Americans’ faith in the rule of law and our system of checks and balances.” The pretense of oversight by the administration, in providing limited and perhaps misleading briefings on the program only to the so-called “Gang of Eight” Congressional leaders, is superficial and ineffective, she writes; the entire process “effectively eliminates the possibility of any careful oversight.” She notes that because of the severe restrictions both in the information doled out to these Congressional leaders, and their strict prohibition on discussing the information with anyone else, even other intelligence panel members, “[i]t is virtually impossible for individual members of Congress, particularly members of the minority party, to take any effective action if they have concerns about what they have heard in one of these briefings. It is not realistic to expect them, working alone, to sort through complex legal issues, conduct the kind of factual investigation required for true oversight and develop an appropriate legislative response.” Congressional oversight is key to retaining the trust of the US citizenry, she writes, and adds that that particular principle was well understood at the CIA while she was there. Oversight “is vital for a secret agency operating in a democracy. True oversight helps clarify the authority under which intelligence professionals operate. And when risky operations are revealed, it is important to have members of Congress reassure the public that they have been overseeing the operation. The briefings reportedly provided on the National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance program reflect, instead, a ‘check the box’ mentality—allowing administration officials to claim that they had informed Congress without having really achieved the objectives of oversight.” While those few members of Congress are given little real information, the judiciary, particularly the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court (FISC), is cut out of the process entirely. “Instead of going to a judge on the secret court that was specifically established to authorize foreign intelligence surveillance inside the United States, we are told that an NSA shift supervisor was able to sign off on the warrantless surveillance of Americans,” she writes. “That’s neither a check nor a balance. The primary duty of the NSA shift supervisor, who essentially works for the president, is to collect intelligence. The task of the judge is to ensure that the legal standards set out in the 1978 Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) have been met. Which one has stronger independence to say no, if no needs to be said? The objectives of the surveillance program, as described in news reports, seem laudable. The government should be running to ground the contacts listed in a suspected terrorist’s cell phone, for example. What is troubling is that this domestic spying is being done in apparent contravention of FISA, for reasons that still are not clear.” In her piece she takes issue with the Bush administration’s insistence that its surveillance program is legal and necessary. She makes the following case:
Specious Arguments to Duck FISA Court - The argument that the FISA Court is too slow to respond to immediate needs for domestic surveillance is specious, she says. “FISA anticipates situations in which speed is essential. It allows the government to start eavesdropping without a court order and to keep it going for a maximum of three days. And while the FISA application process is often burdensome in routine cases, it can also move with remarkable speed when necessary, with applications written and approved in just a few hours.” Instead, she says that the Bush administration must have dodged FISC because their wiretaps didn’t meet FISA standards of probable cause. Since FISC is staffed by judges hand-picked by conservative then-Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist, “who presumably felt that they had the right temperament and expertise to understand the national security imperatives as well as the need to protect civil liberties,” and since FISC has granted all but four of the more than 5,645 requests for wiretaps and surveillance made by the administration since 2001, to argue that FISC is unresponsive is simply wrong-headed. And, she notes, if the administration felt that FISA’s standards were too strict, it could have moved to amend the law to allow more leniency in obtaining such warrants. It has not done so since the passage of the 2001 Patriot Act. She writes, “The administration reportedly did not think it could get an amendment without exposing details of the program. But this is not the first time the intelligence community has needed a change in the law to allow it to undertake sensitive intelligence activities that could not be disclosed. In the past, Congress and the administration have worked together to find a way to accomplish what was needed. It was never previously considered an option to simply decide that finding a legislative solution was too hard and that the executive branch could just ignore the law rather than fix it.”
No Justification for Keeping Program Secret - In addition, the administration has consistently failed to make a case for keeping the domestic wiretapping policy secret for four years. US-designated terrorist groups already know that the government listens to their cell phone conversations whenever possible, and they are well aware of the various publicly known programs to search through millions of electronic communications, such as the NSA’s Echelon program (see April 4, 2001). “So what do the terrorists learn from a general public discussion about the legal authority being relied upon to target their conversations?” she asks. “Presumably very little. What does the American public lose by not having the public discussion? We lose the opportunity to hold our elected leaders accountable for what they do on our behalf.”
Assertions that Program Authorized by Congress Fallacious - The argument advanced by Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that says the program does not violate the law because Congress’s post-9/11 authorization of force against terrorists gives the administration the right to circumvent FISA is equally specious, she argues. “FISA does provide for criminal penalties if surveillance is conducted under color of law ‘except as authorized by statute.’ This is a reference to either FISA or the criminal wiretap statute. A resolution, such as the Use of Force resolution, does not provide statutory authority. Moreover, FISA specifically provides for warrantless surveillance for up to 15 days after a declaration of war. Why would Congress include that provision if a mere Use of Force resolution could render FISA inapplicable? The law clearly states that the criminal wiretap statute and FISA are ‘the exclusive means by which electronic surveillance…and the interception of domestic wire, oral, and electronic communications may be conducted.’ If these authorities are exclusive, there is no other legal authority that can authorize warrantless surveillance. Courts generally will not view such a clear statutory statement as having been overruled by a later congressional action unless there is an equally clear indication that Congress intended to do that.” Therefore, by any legal standard, the administration’s program is, apparently, illegal.
No Inherent Presidential Authority - The ultimate argument by Bush officials, that the president has some sort of inherent authority as commander-in-chief to authorize illegal wiretaps, is the same groundless legal argument recently used to justify the use of torture by US intelligence and law enforcement agents (see December 28, 2001). That argument was withdrawn, Spaulding notes, after it became publicly known. While the courts have not specifically ruled on this particular argument, Spaulding notes that the Supreme Court refused to recognize then-President Harry Truman’s attempt to seize control of the nation’s steel mills to avert a possible strike during the Korean War. The Supreme Court ruled “that the president’s inherent authority is at its weakest in areas where Congress has already legislated. It ruled that to find inherent presidential authority when Congress has explicitly withheld that authority—as it has in FISA—‘is not merely to disregard in a particular instance the clear will of Congress. It is to disrespect the whole legislative process and the constitutional division of authority between president and Congress.’” She notes that in 2004, the Supreme Court rejected the argument for unchecked presidential power in the Hamdi case (see June 28, 2004), with Justice Sandra Day O’Connor writing for the court, “We have long since made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the president when it comes to the rights of the Nation’s citizens. …Whatever power the United States Constitution envisions for the Executive in its exchanges with… enemy organizations in times of conflict, it most assuredly envisions a role for all three branches when individual liberties are at stake.” Spaulding concludes, “The rule of law and our system of checks and balances are not a source of weakness or a luxury of peace. As O’Connor reminded us in Hamdi, ‘It is during our most challenging and uncertain moments…that we must preserve our commitment at home to the principles for which we fight abroad.’” [Washington Post, 12/25/2005]

Entity Tags: Sandra Day O’Connor, William Rehnquist, USA Patriot Act, Suzanne Spaulding, National Security Agency, US Supreme Court, Harry S. Truman, Alberto R. Gonzales, “Gang of Eight”, National Commission on Terrorism, Central Intelligence Agency, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, Echelon, Bush administration (43)

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

During the Senate hearings to confirm conservative jurist Samuel Alito to the Supreme Court, the questioning turns to Alito’s views on the “unitary executive” theory (January 1, 1992). The theory seems to have originated in the Reagan administration’s Justice Department (see April 30, 1986), where Alito worked in the Office of Legal Counsel.
Lawyer Testifies to Unitary Executive - Former Clinton White House counsel Beth Nolan testifies about the theory and its potential for dramatically revamping the power of the presidency: “‘Unitary executive’ is a small phrase with almost limitless import. At the very least, it embodies the concept of presidential control over all executive functions, including those that have traditionally been executed by ‘independent’ agencies and other actors not subject to the president’s direct control.… The phrase is also used to embrace expansive interpretations of the president’s substantive powers, and strong limits on the legislative and judicial branches.” Nolan cites a November 2000 speech by Alito to the Federalist Society, where Alito said in part, “the president is largely impervious to statutory law in the areas of foreign affairs, national security, and Congress is effectively powerless to act as a constraint against presidential aggrandizement in these areas.” [Dean, 2007, pp. 100-106] During the questioning session, Alito denies ever discussing the idea of inherent presidential powers during that speech.
Evasive Answers in Hearings - Senator Richard Durbin (D-IL) says in his opening statement that he intends to press Alito on his support for what Durbin calls “a marginal theory at best… yet one you’ve said you believe.” Durbin notes that the Bush administration has repeatedly cited the theory to justify its most controversial policies and decisions, particularly in conducting its war on terror. Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) adds: “The president is not a king, free to take any action he chooses without limitation, by law.… In the area of executive power, Judge Alito, you have embraced and endorsed the theory of the unitary executive. Your deferential and absolutist view of separation of powers raises questions. Under this view, in times of war the president would, for instance, seem to have inherent authority to wiretap American citizens without a warrant, to ignore Congressional acts at will, or to take any other action he saw fit under his inherent powers. We need to know, when a president goes too far, will you be a check on his power or will you issue him a blank check to exercise whatever power alone he thinks appropriate?” [Savage, 2007, pp. 271-272] However, Alito refuses to address the issue in the hearings, giving what one journalist calls “either confused or less than candid” answers to questions concerning the subject.
Failure to Recall - During questioning, Alito turns aside inquiries about his avowed support for the unitary executive theory, saying he was merely talking about the idea that a president should have control over lesser executive branch officials, and was not referring to the usurpation of Congressional power by the executive. Further questions elicit nothing but a dry definition of the term. Asked about Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas’s stinging dissent in the 2004 Hamdi v. Rumsfeld case (see June 28, 2004), where Thomas wrote that the authors of the Constitution believed a unitary executive was essential to the implementation of US foreign policies, Alito says he does not recall Thomas’s mention of the phrase. Asked about Bush’s signing statement that attempted to invalidate the Detainee Treatment Act (see December 30, 2005), Alito merely recites the definition of a signing statement, and refuses to actually state his position on the issue (see February 6, 1986 and After). Senator Ted Kennedy (D-MA), disturbed by Alito’s refusal to address the subject, says he will vote against him in part because of Alito’s embrace of “the gospel of the unitary executive.” Kennedy cites one of the authors of the theory, law professor Steven Calabresi, one of the founders of the Federalist Society, who, Kennedy says, “acknowledged that, if the concept is implemented, it would produce a radical change in how the government operates.” [Dean, 2007, pp. 100-106; Savage, 2007, pp. 271-274]
ACLU Opposes Alito - The ACLU, for only the third time in its history, formally opposes Alito’s nomination, in part because of Alito’s embrace of the unitary executive theory of the presidency, citing Alito’s “expansive view of executive authority and a limited view of the judicial role in curbing abuses of that authority.” In its 86-year history, the ACLU has only opposed two other Court nominees: William Rehnquist and former Solicitor General Robert Bork. [American Civil Liberties Union, 1/9/2006]
Opposition Fails - However, none of this is effective. Alito is sworn in less than a month later, after Democrats in the Senate fail to successfully mount a filibuster against his confirmation. [CNN, 2/1/2006]

Entity Tags: Office of Legal Counsel (DOJ), Samuel Alito, Edward M. (“Ted”) Kennedy, Clarence Thomas, Beth Nolan, US Department of Justice, Bush administration (43), US Supreme Court, American Civil Liberties Union

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Al Gore speaks to the Liberty Coalition and the American Constitution Society.Al Gore speaks to the Liberty Coalition and the American Constitution Society. [Source: American Constitution Society]Former Vice President Al Gore delivers a long, impassioned speech on civil liberties and constitutional issues to the Liberty Coalition and the American Constitution Society. Gore joins former Representative Bob Barr (R-GA) in speaking out against the Bush administration’s infringement on American civil liberties. Gore and Barr have what Gore calls a “shared concern that America’s Constitution is in grave danger.”
Patently Illegal Domestic Surveillance - Gore’s speech is sparked by recent revelations that the NSA has been spying on American citizens for years (see December 15, 2005), and in response, the administration “has brazenly declared that it has the unilateral right to continue without regard to the established law enacted by Congress precisely to prevent such abuses.” As the Foreign Intelligence and Surveillance Act (FISA) is perfectly sufficient, there was no need for the Bush administration to circumvent that law. “At present, we still have much to learn about the NSA’s domestic surveillance,” Gore says. “What we do know about this pervasive wiretapping virtually compels the conclusion that the president of the United States has been breaking the law, repeatedly and insistently. A president who breaks the law is a threat to the very structure of our government.” Gore says he agrees with Bush on the threat of terrorism, but disagrees that the US has to “break the law or sacrifice our system of government” to protect itself, as this will make it “weaker and more vulnerable.” In addition, he says, “once violated, the rule of law is itself in danger,” and, “Unless stopped, lawlessness grows, the greater the power of the executive grows, the more difficult it becomes for the other branches to perform their constitutional roles.” It is patently obvious that the Bush administration has broken the law in conducting and approving its warrantless wiretaps, Gore says, regardless of what arguments and defenses administration officials may put forth (see September 12-18, 2001 and Early 2002). So, Gore says, “When President Bush failed to convince Congress to give him the power he wanted when this measure was passed, he secretly assumed that power anyway, as if Congressional authorization was a useless bother. But as [Supreme Court] Justice [Felix] Frankfurter once wrote, ‘To find authority so explicitly withheld is not merely to disregard in a particular instance the clear will of Congress. It is to disrespect the whole legislative process and the constitutional division of authority between the president and the Congress.‘… And the disrespect embodied in these apparent mass violations of the law is part of a larger pattern of seeming indifference to the Constitution that is deeply troubling to millions of Americans in both political parties.”
Illegal Seizure of American Citizens - Gore notes that Bush has declared that he has “a heretofore unrecognized inherent power to seize and imprison any American citizen that he alone determines to be a threat to our nation, and that notwithstanding his American citizenship that person in prison has no right to talk with a lawyer, even if he wants to argue that the president or his appointees have made a mistake and imprisoned the wrong person” (see November 13, 2001 and March 5, 2002). He says: “The president claims that he can imprison that American citizen—any American citizen he chooses—indefinitely, for the rest of his life, without even an arrest warrant, without notifying them of what charges have been filed against them, without even informing their families that they have been imprisoned.” Gore then says: “No such right exists in the America that you and I know and love. It is foreign to our Constitution. It must be rejected.”
Specious Authority to Torture - Neither does the executive branch have the right to authorize torture, Gore says. After citing horrific examples from Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib, he calls it “a shameful exercise of power that overturns a set of principles that you’re nation has observed since General George Washington first enunciated them during our Revolutionary War. They have been observed by every president since then until now. They violate the Geneva Conventions, the International Convention Against Torture, and our own laws against torture.”
Unlawful Kidnapping of Foreign Citizens - The president has no right to have foreign citizens kidnapped from their homes and brought to the US for interrogation and imprisonment, or worse, delivered to other nations for harsh interrogations and torture, says Gore. The closest allies of the US have been shocked by such claims.
No Restraint in the Constitution? - Gore asks whether the president really has such powers under the Constitution and, if so, “are there any acts that can on their face be prohibited?” He quotes the dean of Yale’s law school, Harold Koh, who said, “If the president has commander in chief power to commit torture, he has the power to commit genocide, to sanction slavery, to promote apartheid, to license summary execution.” Gore is “deeply troubl[ed]” that “our normal American safeguards have thus far failed to contain this unprecedented expansion of executive power.” He cites the numerous usage of “signing statements” by Bush that signal his intent “not to comply” with particular legislation (see December 30, 2005). When the Supreme Court struck down Bush’s indefinite detention of “enemy combatants” (see June 28, 2004), “the president then engaged in legal maneuvers designed to prevent the court from providing any meaningful content to the rights of the citizens affected.”
Historical Cycles - Since the founding of America, Gore says, the country has abrogated its citizens’ rights in one circumstance or another, and cites numerous examples. But those abrogations were always rectified to some degree in a repeated cycle of what he calls “excess and regret.” Gore is worried that the country may not be in such a cycle now. Instead, he says, the US may be on a path to permanent, state-sanctioned authoritarianism, with the constitutional safeguards American citizens have come to expect eroded and undermined to the point of irretrievability. Gore specifically cites the administration’s support for the so-called “unitary executive” theory of government, which he says “ought to be more accurately described as the unilateral executive.” That theory “threatens to expand the president’s powers until the contours of the Constitution that the framers actually gave us become obliterated beyond all recognition.”
Stark Authoritarianism - Why are Bush and his top officials doing this? Gore says that “[t]he common denominator seems to be based on an instinct to intimidate and control. The same pattern has characterized the effort to silence dissenting views within the executive branch, to censor information that may be inconsistent with its stated ideological goals, and to demand conformity from all executive branch employees.” Gore continues: “Intellectually, it is possible to carry on this process for an indefinite time. The only check on it is that, sooner or later, a false belief bumps up against solid reality, usually on a battlefield. Two thousand two hundred American soldiers have lost their lives as this false belief bumped into a solid reality.”
Gutting Congress - Though serious damage has been done to the judicial branch, Gore acknowledges, “the most serious damage in our constitutional framework has been to the legislative branch. The sharp decline of Congressional power and autonomy in recent years has been almost as shocking as the efforts by the executive to attain this massive expansion of its power.… [T]he legislative branch of government as a whole, under its current leadership, now operates as if it were entirely subservient to the executive branch.… [T]he whole process is largely controlled by the incumbent president and his political organization” (see February 1, 2004). Gore says each member of Congress, Republican and Democrat, must “uphold your oath of office and defend the Constitution. Stop going along to get along. Start acting like the independent and co-equal branch of American government that you are supposed to be under the Constitution of our country.”
We the People - The American people still, for the moment, have the power to enforce the Constitution, Gore says, quoting former President Dwight Eisenhower, who said, “Any who act as if freedom’s defenses are to be found in suppression and suspicion and fear confess a doctrine that is alien to America.” Gore continues: “Fear drives out reason. Fear suppresses the politics of discourse and opens the door to the politics of destruction.… The founders of our country faced dire threats. If they failed in their endeavors, they would have been hung as traitors. The very existence of our country was at risk. Yet in the teeth of those dangers, they insisted on establishing the full Bill of Rights. Is our Congress today in more danger than were their predecessors when the British army was marching on the Capitol? Is the world more dangerous than when we faced an ideological enemy with tens of thousands of nuclear missiles ready to be launched on a moment’s notice to completely annihilate the country?” [Congressional Quarterly, 1/16/2006; American Constitutional Society, 1/16/2006]

Entity Tags: National Security Agency, Liberty Coalition, US Supreme Court, Harold Koh, George W. Bush, Albert Arnold (“Al”) Gore, Jr., American Constitution Society, Bush administration (43), Convention Against Torture, Felix Frankfurter, George Washington, Geneva Conventions, Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act, Robert “Bob” Barr

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Jeffrey Rapp, the director of the Joint Intelligence Task Force for Combating Terrorism at the Defense Intelligence Agency, provides a 16-page document supporting the government’s declaration that Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri is an enemy combatant (see December 12, 2001). Rapp gives the classified document, originally prepared in September 2004 and partially declassified for the court, to the trial judge presiding over the case, Henry Floyd (see April 6, 2006). The document, informally known as the “Rapp Declarations,” makes an array of charges against al-Marri, including alleging that he “met personally” with Osama bin Laden and was sent to the US to “explore computer-hacking methods to disrupt bank records and the US financial system.” Rapp claims that al-Marri was trained in the use of poisons and had detailed information about poisonous chemicals on his laptop computer, a claim verified by an FBI search. Additionally, Rapp says that al-Qaeda “instructed al-Marri to explore possibilities for hacking into the mainframe computers of banks with the objective of wreaking havoc on US banking records.” Rapp also says that al-Marri’s computer was loaded with “numerous computer programs typically utilized by computer hackers; ‘proxy’ computer software which can be utilized to hide a user’s origin or identity when connected to the Internet; and bookmarked lists of favorite Web sites apparently devoted to computer hacking.” Rapp refuses to cite any sources other than “specific intelligence sources” that are “highly classified.” [Jeffrey M. Rapp, 9/9/2004 pdf file; CNET News, 9/22/2006] While this kind of evidence is routinely dismissed as hearsay evidence inadmissible in court, Floyd rules that because the Supreme Court ruled in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld that hearsay evidence can be used against alleged enemy combatants (see June 28, 2004), the “Rapp Declarations” would be considered. Floyd says that al-Marri’s lawyers will have to provide “more persuasive evidence” that counters the government’s case—a reversal of the usual burden of proof that places the responsibility of proving guilt on the prosecution and not the defense. [CNET News, 9/22/2006]

Entity Tags: Henry Floyd, Defense Intelligence Agency, Joint Intelligence Task Force for Combating Terrorism (DIA), Jeffrey Rapp, Al-Qaeda, Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri

Timeline Tags: Torture of US Captives, Civil Liberties

President Bush signs the Military Commissions Act into law.President Bush signs the Military Commissions Act into law. [Source: White House]President Bush signs the Military Commissions Act (MCA) into law. [White House, 10/17/2006] The MCA is designed to give the president the authority to order “enemy detainees” tried by military commissions largely outside the scope of US civil and criminal procedures. The bill was requested by the Bush administration after the Supreme Court’s ruling in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (see June 28, 2004) that the US could not hold prisoners indefinitely without access to the US judicial system, and that the administration’s proposal that they be tried by military tribunals was unconstitutional (see June 28, 2004). [FindLaw, 10/9/2006] It is widely reported that the MCA does not directly apply to US citizens, but to only non-citizens defined as “enemy combatants. [CBS News, 10/19/2006] However, six months later, a Bush administration lawyer will confirm that the administration believes the law does indeed apply to US citizens (see February 1, 2007).
Sweeping New Executive Powers - The MCA virtually eliminates the possibility that the Supreme Court can ever again act as a check on a president’s power in the war on terrorism. Similarly, the law gives Congressional approval to many of the executive powers previously, and unilaterally, seized by the Bush administration. Former Justice Department official John Yoo celebrates the MCA, writing, “Congress… told the courts, in effect, to get out of the war on terror” (see October 19, 2006). [Savage, 2007, pp. 319, 322]
'Abandoning' Core 'Principles' - The bill passed the Senate on a 65-34 vote, and the House by a 250-170 vote. The floor debate was often impassioned and highly partisan; House Majority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) called Democrats who opposed the bill “dangerous,” and Senate Judiciary Committee member Patrick Leahy (D-VT) said this bill showed that the US is losing its “moral compass.” Leahy asked during the debate, “Why would we allow the terrorists to win by doing to ourselves what they could never do, and abandon the principles for which so many Americans today and through our history have fought and sacrificed?” Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Arlen Specter (R-PA) had said he would vote against it because it is “patently unconstitutional on its face,” but then voted for it, saying he believes the courts will eventually “clean it up.” Specter’s attempt to amend the bill to provide habeas corpus rights for enemy combatants was defeated, as were four Democratic amendments. Republicans have openly used the debate over the MCA as election-year fodder, with House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) saying after the vote that “House Democrats have voted to protect the rights of terrorists,” and Boehner decrying “the Democrats’ irrational opposition to strong national security policies.” Democrats such as Senator Barack Obama (D-IL) say they will not fight back at such a level. “There will be 30-second attack ads and negative mail pieces, and we will be called everything from cut-and-run quitters to Defeatocrats, to people who care more about the rights of terrorists than the protection of Americans,” Obama says. “While I know all of this, I’m still disappointed, and I’m still ashamed, because what we’re doing here today—a debate over the fundamental human rights of the accused—should be bigger than politics.” [Washington Post, 10/19/2006] After winning the vote, Hastert accused Democrats who opposed the bill of “putting their liberal agenda ahead of the security of America.” Hastert said the Democrats “would gingerly pamper the terrorists who plan to destroy innocent Americans’ lives” and create “new rights for terrorists.” [New York Times, 10/19/2006]
Enemy Combatants - The MCA applies only to “enemy combatants.” Specifically, the law defines an “unlawful enemy combatant” as a person “who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents,” and who is not a lawful combatant. Joanne Mariner of Human Rights Watch says the definition far exceeds the traditionally accepted definition of combatant as someone who directly participates in hostilities. But under the MCA, someone who provides “material support” for terrorists—whether that be in the form of financial contributions or sweeping the floors at a terrorist camp—can be so defined. Worse, the label can be applied without recourse by either Bush or the secretary of defense, after a “competent tribunal” makes the determination. The MCA provides no guidelines as to what criteria these tribunals should use. Taken literally, the MCA gives virtually unrestricted power to the tribunals to apply the label as requested by the president or the secretary. Mariner believes the definition is both “blatantly unconstitutional” and a direct contradiction of centuries of Supreme Court decisions that define basic judicial rights. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006] Under this definition, the president can imprison, without charge or trial, any US citizen accused of donating money to a Middle East charity that the government believes is linked to terrorist activity. Citizens associated with “fringe” groups such as the left-wing Black Panthers or right-wing militias can be incarcerated without trial or charge. Citizens accused of helping domestic terrorists can be so imprisoned. Law professor Bruce Ackerman calls the MCA “a massive Congressional expansion of the class of enemy combatants,” and warns that the law may “haunt all of us on the morning after the next terrorist attack” by enabling a round of mass detentions similar to the roundup of Japanese-American citizens during World War II. [Savage, 2007, pp. 322]
Military Commissions - The MCA mandates that enemy combatants are to be tried by military commissions, labeled “regularly constituted courts that afford all the necessary ‘judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples’ for purposes of common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.” The commissions must have a minimum of five commissioned military officers and a military judge; if death is a possible penalty, the commissions must have at least 12 officers. The defendant’s guilt must be proven beyond a reasonable doubt; convictions require a two-thirds vote. Sentences of beyond 10 years require a three-quarters vote, and death penalties must be unanimously voted for. Defendants may either represent themselves or by military or civilian counsel. The court procedures themselves, although based on standard courts-martial proceedings, are fluid, and can be set or changed as the secretary of defense sees fit. Statements obtained through methods defined as torture are inadmissible, but statements take by coercion and “cruel treatment” can be admitted. The MCA sets the passage of the Detainee Treatment Act (DTA—see December 15, 2005) as a benchmark—statements obtained before the December 30, 2005 enactment of that law can be used, even if the defendant was “coerced,” if a judge finds the statement “reasonable and possessing sufficient probative value.” Statements after that date must have been taken during interrogations that fall under the DTA guidelines. Defendants have the right to examine and respond to evidence seen by the commission, a provision originally opposed by the administration. However, if the evidence is classified, an unclassified summary of that material is acceptable, and classified exculpatory evidence can be denied in lieu of what the MCA calls “acceptable substitutes.” Hearsay evidence is admissible, as is evidence obtained without search warrants. Generally, defendants will not be allowed to inquire into the classified “sources, methods, or activities” surrounding evidence against them. Some human rights activists worry that evidence obtained through torture can be admitted, and the fact that it was obtained by torture, if that detail is classified, will not be presented to the court or preclude the evidence from being used. Public access to the commissions will be quite limited. Many experts claim these commissions are illegal both by US constitutional law and international law. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006]
Secret Courts - The military tribunals can be partially or completely closed to public scrutiny if the presiding judge deems such an action necessary to national security. The government can convey such concerns to the judge without the knowledge of the defense. The judge can exclude the accused from the trial if he deems it necessary for safety or if he decides the defendant is “disruptive.” Evidence can be presented in secret, without the knowledge of the defense and without giving the defense a chance to examine that evidence, if the judge finds that evidence “reliable.” And during the trial, the prosecution can at any time assert a “national security privilege” that would stop “the examination of any witness” if that witness shows signs of discussing sensitive security matters. This provision can easily be used to exclude any potential defense witness who might “breach national security” with their testimony. Author and investigative reporter Robert Parry writes, “In effect, what the new law appears to do is to create a parallel ‘star chamber’ system for the prosecution, imprisonment, and elimination of enemies of the state, whether those enemies are foreign or domestic.” [Consortium News, 10/19/2006]
Appeals - Guilty verdicts are automatically appealed to a Court of Military Commission Review, consisting of three appellate military justices. The DC Circuit Court of Appeals has extremely limited authority of review of the commissions; even its authority to judge whether a decision is consistent with the Constitution is limited “to the extent [that the Constitution is] applicable.”
Types of Crimes - Twenty-eight specific crimes fall under the rubric of the military commissions, including conspiracy (not a traditional war crime), murder of protected persons, murder in violation of the bill of war, hostage-taking, torture, cruel or inhuman treatment, mutilation or maiming, rape, sexual abuse or assault, hijacking, terrorism, providing material support for terrorism, and spying. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006]
CIA Abuses - The MCA, responding to the recent Supreme Court decision of Hamdan v. Rumsfeld (see June 30, 2006) that found the CIA’s secret detention program and abusive interrogation practices illegal, redefines and amends the law to make all but the most pernicious interrogation practices, even those defined as torture by the War Crimes Act and the Geneva Conventions, legal. The MCA actually rules that the Geneva Conventions are all but unenforceable in US courts. It also provides retroactive protection under the law to all actions as far back as November 1997. Under the MCA, practices such as waterboarding, stress positioning, and sleep deprivation cannot be construed as torture. [FindLaw, 10/9/2006] The MCA even states that rape as part of interrogations cannot be construed as torture unless the intent of the rapist to torture his victim can be proven, a standard rejected by international law. The MCA provides such a narrow definition of coercion and sexual abuse that most of the crimes perpetrated at Abu Ghraib are now legal. [Jurist, 10/4/2006] Although the MCA seems to cover detainee abuse for all US agencies, including the CIA, Bush says during the signing of the bill, “This bill will allow the Central Intelligence Agency to continue its program for questioning key terrorist leaders and operatives.” International law expert Scott Horton will note, “The administration wanted these prohibitions on the military and not on the CIA, but it did not work out that way.” Apparently Bush intends to construe the law to exempt the CIA from its restrictions, such as they are, on torture and abuse of prisoners. [Salon, 5/22/2007]
No Habeas Corpus Rights - Under the MCA, enemy combatants no longer have the right to file suit under the habeas corpus provision of US law. This means that they cannot challenge the legality of their detention, or raise claims of torture and mistreatment. Even detainees who have been released can never file suit to seek redress for their treatment while in US captivity. [FindLaw, 10/25/2006]
Retroactive Immunity - The administration added a provision to the MCA that rewrote the War Crimes Act retroactively to November 26, 1997, making any offenses considered war crimes before the MCA is adopted no longer punishable under US law. Former Nixon White House counsel John Dean will write in 2007 that the only reason he can fathom for the change is to protect administration officials—perhaps including President Bush himself—from any future prosecutions as war criminals. Dean will note that if the administration actually believes in the inherent and indisputable powers of the presidency, as it has long averred, then it would not worry about any such criminal liability. [Dean, 2007, pp. 239-240]

Entity Tags: Human Rights Watch, Joanne Mariner, US Supreme Court, Patrick J. Leahy, Military Commissions Act, John Dean, George W. Bush, Scott Horton, Geneva Conventions, Bruce Ackerman, Dennis Hastert, American Civil Liberties Union, Amnesty International, Detainee Treatment Act, Arlen Specter, War Crimes Act, Barack Obama, Central Intelligence Agency, Bush administration (43), John Boehner

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

Congress passes a defense spending bill with controversial provisions authorizing the indefinite military detention, or rendering to a foreign country or entity, without charge or trial, of any person, including US citizens, detained, arrested, or captured anywhere in the world, including the US. The bill is the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) (H.R. 1540 and S. 1867). [GovTrack, 12/31/2012] The NDAA created controversy soon after the indefinite detention provisions were revealed (see July 6, 2011 and after). Civil liberties and human rights advocates raised concerns about sections 1026, 1027, and 1028, which restrict transfers and releases of prisoners from the US prison at Guantanamo, including those found to be innocent, but the most controversial parts of the bill are Sections 1021 and 1022, which provide for indefinite military detention. A federal judge will later issue a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of Section 1021, finding it unconstitutional (see May 16, 2012). [Verdict, 12/21/2011]
Detention Authorities Currently Unclear, Not Settled by NDAA - The Supreme Court ruled by plurality in Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (2004) (see June 28, 2004 that Yaser Esam Hamdi, a US citizen captured by the Northern Alliance in Afghanistan and alleged to have been armed and traveling with a Taliban unit (see December 2001), could be held by the military without charge or trial until the end of hostilities authorized by the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF). In other circumstances, such as persons not engaged in armed combat with US forces, or persons arrested or captured away from a battlefield, or inside the United States, the rights of prisoners and the legality of indefinite military detention are unsettled issues, and the NDAA provides no clarification. The AUMF makes no reference to the detention of prisoners or military operations inside the United States, but both the Bush and Obama administrations have consistently interpreted language giving the president authority to use “all necessary and appropriate force” to include broad powers of detention. Due to the lack of clear expression of the scope of these authorities in the AUMF, as well as potential conflicts with the Constitution, related case law includes differing judicial opinions. Supreme Court rulings have not addressed all the questions raised by the complexity of the issues involved. [New York Times, 12/1/2011; Secrecy News, 2/6/2012; Elsea, 6/11/2012 pdf file; Salon, 12/15/2012] The NDAA states in 1021(d), “Nothing in this section is intended to limit or expand the authority of the president or the scope of the [AUMF],” and (e): “Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States.” [Public Law 112 81 pdf file] This language was included following the nearly unanimous passage of Senate Amendment (SA) 1456. It was a compromise, following the defeat of three other amendments proposed by members of Congress concerned about the NDAA’s blanket detention authority: SA 1107, introduced by Senator Mark Udall (D-CO), which would have removed detention provisions from the bill and required the executive branch to submit a report to Congress on its interpretation of its detention powers and the role of the military; SA 1125, introduced by Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), which would have limited the definition of covered persons to those captured outside US borders; and SA 1126, also introduced by Feinstein, which would have would have excluded US citizens from indefinite detention provisions. [Senate, 12/1/2011; The Political Guide, 12/31/2012] Supporters of broad detention authority say the entire world is a battlefield, and interpret Hamdi to mean any US citizen deemed an enemy combatant can legally be detained indefinitely by the military. Opponents point out that Hamdi was said to have been fighting the US in Afghanistan, and that military detention without trial is limited to those captured in such circumstances. Opponents also say the 1971 Non-Detention Act outlawed indefinite detention of US persons arrested in the US. Feinstein, who submitted SA 1456 inserting the compromise language, states: “[T]his bill does not change existing law, whichever side’s view is the correct one. So the sponsors can read Hamdi and other authorities broadly, and opponents can read it more narrowly, and this bill does not endorse either side’s interpretation, but leaves it to the courts to decide.” Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), sponsor of the original NDAA in the Senate, agrees, saying: “[W]e make clear whatever the law is. It is unaffected by this language in our bill.” [Senate, 12/1/2011]
NDAA 'Affirms' Authority Not Expressly Granted in AUMF, Further Muddies Already Unclear Powers - In the NDAA, Congress attempts to settle some of the aforementioned legal questions by asserting in the NDAA that these authorities were included in the AUMF or that the president already possessed them (unless the courts decide otherwise). Section 1021(a) states: “Congress affirms that the authority of the president to use all necessary and appropriate force pursuant to the [AUMF]… includes the authority for the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons (as defined in sub-section (b)) pending disposition under the law of war… (c)(1) until the end of the hostilities authorized by the [AUMF].” This clear statement regarding detention authority is an implicit acknowledgment that the AUMF neither explicitly authorizes indefinite military detention, nor spells out the scope of such authority. As noted above, both the George W. Bush and Obama administrations, citing the AUMF, have claimed this authority, and some courts have upheld their interpretation. However, as noted by critics of the bill such as the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Human Rights Watch (HRW), and constitutional scholar Glenn Greenwald, this is the first time Congress has codified it. Also, despite Congress’s assertion in the NDAA that it does not “expand… the scope of the [AUMF],” the language in the bill does exactly that. The AUMF pertained only to those responsible for the 9/11 attacks, or those who harbored them. Subsection (b)(2) of the NDAA expands the definition of covered persons and activities to include “[a] person who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaeda, the Taliban, or associated forces that are engaged in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners, including any person who has committed a belligerent act or has directly supported such hostilities in aid of such enemy forces.” Terms such as “substantially supported,” “directly supported,” and “associated forces” are not defined in the NDAA and are thus subject to interpretation, introducing new ambiguities. In addition, though the AUMF does not explicitly authorize it, the NDAA clearly covers any person, including US persons, “captured or arrested in the United States,” should the courts decide that the AUMF did, in fact, authorize this, or that it is otherwise constitutional. A federal judge will later issue a preliminary injunction barring enforcement of this section of the NDAA, in part because of its conflicting, vague language but also because of her finding that it infringes on the right to due process, and to freedom of speech and association (see May 16, 2012). [Public Law 112 81 pdf file; American Civil Liberties Union, 12/14/2012; Human Rights Watch, 12/15/2012; Salon, 12/15/2012]
Section 1022: Mandatory Military Custody for Non-US Citizen Members of Al-Qaeda - Section 1022 requires that those determined to be members of al-Qaeda or “an associated force” and who “participated in the course of planning or carrying out an attack or attempted attack against the United States or its coalition partners” be held in “military custody pending disposition under the law of war.” This section is somewhat less controversial than section 1021 as it is more specific and limited in scope, and contains an exemption for US citizens, such that section 1022 may be applied to US citizens, but is not required to be: (b)(1) “The requirement to detain a person in military custody under this section does not extend to citizens of the United States.” [Public Law 112 81 pdf file]
Obama Administration Insisted on Broad Detention Authority - According to Senators Levin and Lindsey Graham (R-SC), the Obama administration required that detention authorities be applicable to US citizens, including those arrested in the US. Levin says that “language which precluded the application of section 1031 [1021 in the final bill] to American citizens was in the bill we originally approved in the Armed Services Committee, and the administration asked us to remove the language which says that US citizens and lawful residents would not be subject to this section.” [Senate, 11/17/2011] Graham says: “The statement of authority I authored in 1031 [1021 in final bill], with cooperation from the administration, clearly says someone captured in the United States is considered part of the enemy force regardless of the fact they made it on our home soil. The law of war applies inside the United States not just overseas.” [Senate, 11/17/2011]
How Congress Votes - With President Obama having signaled he will sign the bill, the Senate votes 86-13 in favor, with one abstention. Six Democrats and six Republicans vote against it, along with Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT). [Open Congress, 12/15/2011] The House votes 283-136 in favor of the bill, with 14 abstentions. Democrats are evenly divided, with 93 voting for the NDAA and 93 against. Republicans voting are overwhelmingly in favor: 190-43, almost four out of five. Obama will sign the NDAA into law by December 31, 2011 (see December 31, 2011). [Open Congress, 12/14/2011]
Fallout over Bill - The same day Congress votes to pass the bill, two senators who voted for it, Feinstein and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), introduce a bill to restrict presidential authority to indefinitely detain US citizens (see December 15, 2011). A poll that will be conducted shortly after the bill is passed finds that only one in four “likely voters” approve of it (see December 22-26, 2011). Less than six months after the bill is signed into law, a federal judge will issue a preliminary injunction barring enforcement under section 1021 (see May 16, 2012), in response to a lawsuit that will be filed by seven activists and journalists (see January 13, 2012).

Entity Tags: Bernie Sanders, George W. Bush, Dianne Feinstein, Carl Levin, Glenn Greenwald, Patrick J. Leahy, Barack Obama, Mark Udall, Human Rights Watch, American Civil Liberties Union

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

A federal judge denies the US government’s request (see May 25, 2012) to reconsider her order (see May 16, 2012) blocking enforcement of a law authorizing indefinite military detention, without charge or trial, of anyone, including US citizens arrested in the United States, accused of supporting groups hostile to the United States. Section 1021 of the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA—see December 15, 2011) is under review in the case of Hedges v. Obama (see January 13, 2012) and Judge Katherine B. Forrest of the US District Court, New York Southern Division had issued a preliminary injunction enjoining enforcement of the law after finding it unconstitutional.
Controversy over Scope of Detention Authority - The US government had also stated in its request for reconsideration that it was interpreting Forrest’s order as applying only to the plaintiffs in the case. Forrest clarifies in her subsequent Memorandum Opinion and Order that by enjoining enforcement of § 1021(b)(2), the only remaining persons the law can be applied to are those defined in § 1021(b)(1): “A person who planned, authorized, committed, or aided the terrorist attacks that occurred on September 11, 2001, or harbored those responsible for those attacks.” This definition of covered persons is the same as the one given in the 2001 Authorization for Use of Military Force, passed by Congress following the September 11 attacks (see September 14-18, 2001). The Supreme Court has only ruled on a narrow range of relevant detention issues; one oft-cited case is Hamdi v. Rumsfeld (see June 28, 2004). Lower courts have produced a variety of opinions, some upholding an expansive view of detention authorities, others challenging it. In § 1021 of the NDAA, Congress asserted that it “affirms” detention authority granted under the AUMF, and does not “expand… the scope of the [AUMF].” Senator Carl Levin (D-MI), during a debate on the NDAA, explained the language in this way: “[W]e make clear whatever the law is. It is unaffected by this language in our bill” (see December 15, 2011). Congress included a separate, broader definition of covered persons in § 1021(b)(2) that potentially covered anyone alleged by the government to have supported groups hostile to the US, including US citizens arrested in the United States. This section is what prompted Hedges to sue, alleging these provisions violated his First and Fifth Amendment rights (see January 13, 2012). Forrest found the bill’s broad and vague provisions for indefinite military detention to be unconstitutional, and Congress’s statement that it was only affirming established law to be “contrary to basic principles of legislative interpretation that require Congressional enactments to be given independent meaning” (see May 16, 2012). [MEMORANDUM OPINION & ORDER: Hedges et al v. Obama 12 Civ. 331 (KBF) affirming preliminary injunction and scope, 6/6/2012]

Entity Tags: US Department of Justice, Katherine B. Forrest, Carl Levin, United States District Court, New York, Southern Division, National Defense Authorization Act of 2012

Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties

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