Opinion

The Military Commissions Act is…

…an important tool in the protection of our country

by Scott Wacholtz

As the nature of warfare changes, the old axiom of Sun Tzu – “every battle is won before it’s ever fought” – becomes ever more central to an effective strategy, regardless of the specific conflict. This is even more the case with the War on Terror, which is almost entirely defined by sub-national conflict.

The Geneva Conventions, the collective name for the four international treaties signed between 1864 and 1949 that attempt to regulate the conduct of nations during war, previously formed the basis of US doctrine concerning the treatment of prisoners of war in the conflicts we’ve been involved in. While that policy was valid during the two World Wars, the Korean War, and even Vietnam, their utility and applicability has come into question during the War on Terror.

War is not a pleasant thing. It often times requires a nation to take actions in its defense that it does everything to try and avoid within its civil society. One of those things is interrogation of enemy combatants. In the case of uniformed soldiers of armed forces, we have pre-existing laws governing their treatment. But because we are fighting a conflict against combatants that aren’t part of an established national defense organization, different methods and needs must be considered.

The success of any war rests with the information on which strategy is based. In previous wars, our success rested largely on the interception and deciphering of the enemy’s coded communications. The ability to acquire that information is still crucial to our success. While we’ve already seen such interrogations bear important fruit, the last thing our intelligence operations need to be concerned with is possible lawsuits being filed that prevent them from performing their work. Additionally, incidents like Abu Ghraib show that legal clarification can be beneficial to prevent the loss of control of any interrogation operation.

The Military Commissions Act is useful in other ways. It sets forth legal definitions as to what constitutes a “lawful combatant.” It also extends the essence of the Fifth Amendment to the US Constitution by protecting our enemies from testifying against themselves. In short, this law provides terrorists and anyone else falling within the definition of an enemy combatant to all the protections our soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines are afforded under the Uniform Code of Military Justice.

While I believe terrorists are the last ones in the world deserving of the mercy of legal consideration, being that they have no respect for law, it is important to always define the government’s authority. Although I still maintain the government’s interpretations of its authority prior to the passage of this act complied with the law, the U.S. Supreme Court felt further clarification was needed. The Military Commission’s Act provides such clarification, while at the same time preserving the tools necessary to effectively fight the war against this most merciless of enemies.

Scott Wacholtz is a graduate student concentrating in Middle Eastern history. He may be contacted at s.wacholtz@umiami.edu.

…a direct assault on our personal freedoms

by Bethany Quinn

What do you expect me to say? Habeas corpus? There, I said it.

This column is supposed to be five hundred words, but I could never begin to do this topic justice because it is so near and dear to my heart. I thought about just listing all of the freedoms and amendments that this new law violates, all of the precedents it undoes, all of the actions of our forefathers that are nullified by this act. But that would be more than five hundred words.

Martin Luther King. The Boston Tea Party. Minutemen (the real ones, not the bigots). They were all terrorists, according to the definition of the USA PATRIOT Act, written five years ago. When it was first passed, it was criticized because people said that the state could potentially arrest someone without cause, and hold them indefinitely. To some extent, it seemed like a slippery-slope argument – but then again, under this administration, our country stands on a very slippery slope. It seems like every time I turn on the news, another worst fear is confirmed.

Bush tells us to trust him, and yet, even in areas he tells us to direct our attention, such as the war in Iraq and the economy, his administration is failing miserably. And now, he drops this slap in the face to our country on us.

This newest attack on America confirms that victims will be tortured while they’re being held indefinitely for fictitious charges. Why is “liberal paranoia” becoming the new common sense? The Military Commissions Act assures us that today’s revolutionaries will in fact become “desaparecidos,” in the grand School of the Americas tradition.

Mechanisms that were created in order to encourage pluralism, discussion and responsible citizenship are being dismantled.

This type of “controversial” legislation is a million times worse than “lie-back-and-take-it” rhetoric. It has expropriated my identity, it has polarized my nation, it has distracted my people from the real problems breeding in their midst like poverty, prejudice, racism and hate. If the terrorists’ goal was to strip us of our God-given rights of life and liberty, our basic American freedoms, then the terrorists have succeeded.

Everything I value about being an American is being undone by this heretic of freedom. As I’ve learned about the massive human rights violations my country has inflicted all over the world, I’ve comforted myself because I am an American citizen – I knew that I would not suffer the same fate. Or at least, I thought I knew. I thought I could safely dissent. I was wrong.

As neurotic as I think Chávez was that day in the UN, I can smell the sulfur, too. What do you expect me to say? See you in prison? Meet me at the pool, let’s see who can hold their breath the longest? I value the Constitution, and define my American identity by the freedoms it guarantees me. But it doesn’t guarantee those anymore. Really, what do you expect me to say?

Bethany Quinn is a senior majoring in Latin American studies and photography. She may be contacted at b.quinn2@umiami.edu.

November 7, 2006

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The Miami Hurricane

Student newspaper at the University of Miami


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