Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Making Sausage: How You Can Help

Yesterday at Eschaton, seemingly out of nowhere, the Master of Bobblespeak, Culture of Truth, began listing some of the bills that have been introduced into the House of Representatives. A few were rather telling, among them multiple bills making it unlawful to relocate detainees currently being held at the Guantanamo Bay prison camp to specific states. Just a little GOP NIMBYism for the folks back at home.

One, however, particularly caught my eye because it dealt with torture: H.R. 893. The bill, which is an amendment to the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, is short and straightforward. Here's the most pertinent part:

(a) In General- No person in the custody or under the effective control of the United States shall be subject to any treatment or technique of interrogation not authorized by and listed in the United States Army Field Manual on Human Intelligence Collector Operations.

This is important for a number of reasons. It means that any person being detained by the US ("under the effective control of the United States") anywhere is covered. Whether in Guantanamo Bay or Bagram, the detained may not be waterboarded or tortured. When the US Supreme Court held that the detainees at Guantanamo were entitled to basic human rights, including habeas corpus, several detainees were shifted by the Bush administration to Bagram, which it hoped put them out of the reach of the Supreme Court ruling.

Next, the amendment is directed not only to the military, which would obviously by bound by the US Army Field Manual, but also to any other agency, including the CIA. As I posted recently, President Obama and members of his administration are doing a little backpedaling on his promise to end torture as an interrogation technique, suggesting, among other things, that maybe the CIA might need a different set of guidelines. This bill would foreclose that hinted-at exception.

The bill is a good one and puts the President into the position of executing a law he promised during his campaign or of openly breaking his promise, something I don't think this president is going to be willing to do on such an issue as torture. The trick is going to be getting the bill through Congress without a lot of tampering. This is where we come in.

The current status of the bill is that it has been referred to the appropriate committees, the Committee on Armed Services (chaired by Ike Skelton, D-MO) and the Committee on the Judiciary (chaired by John Conyers, D-MI).

One of the most remarkable tools for tracking legislation is Thomas, which not only gives the text of bills and their status, but also links to the various committees and their addresses, phone and fax numbers, as well as their membership.

So, here's the link to the Armed Services Committee and here's the one to the Judiciary Committee. Now would be a good time to send a politely worded letter/fax/email to the chair of each committee urging prompt action on the bill. If one of your congress critters is on the committee, a phone call to the local office suggesting the same is also in order.

Why do this now, so early in the process? Well, it's in committee that bills get marked up, altered, added to. This bill, a simple amendment, doesn't require any such messing-up. If we get in now and make it clear that this is the bill we want, there just might be less chance of said messing-up. It also will let the committee members know that voters are paying attention to what they do and will hold them accountable.

Do it. You'll feel better, and so will I.

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