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How the Grownups Do It

October 18, 2006

Below: Shiny happy people clapping hands.

Yesterday, Chancellor Bush signed into law the “Yes, Virginia, America Stands for Kidnapping, Rendition, Life Imprisonment Without Charges, Torture, and Amnesty for War Crimes Act of 2006”, more affectionately known to its friends as the Military Commissions Act. The full text of the bill as signed may be found on the GPO site. (That was pdf, the plaintext is here.) I’ve slogged through all the pages of depressing verbiage, and no one sums it up more clearly or succinctly than T Bogg:

Torture.
Secret prisons.
Hearsay evidence.
No habeas petitions.
Kangaroo courts.
Star chambers.

None of these things, of course, are remotely necessary in order to “protect us from terrorists”. Over in the state of Israel, which in the face of enormous security pressures and despite the general dominance of its hawkish party, has managed to remain a vibrant democracy and to harbor a press expressing a far wider range of views than the USA permits, they don’t do any of this. Prisoners are charged with crimes, or they’re released. Judges insist on respect for the constitution. The executive branch submits to and respects judicial decisions.

According to Israeli government figures, terrorists killed 1,123 of its citizens between September of 2000 and May of 2006 – the equivalent, in that country of just over six million, of around 54,0000 American deaths. That’s 20 September 11s. And that doesn’t even count the bloodshed of the preceding five decades. Israelis know terrorism. They know what it takes to deal with it, face it down, and survive it. What do our more experienced, and more freedom-loving, allies have to teach us?

Israel enacted its own Unlawful Combatants Law in 2002, with the purpose of providing a domestic legal framework for the prolonged detention of terrorists. Rejecting the terrorists’ status as prisoners of war, the law instead provides for holding them “until the end of hostilities.” …Unlike the US bill , the Israeli law provides for a first hearing of the detainee before a high-ranking officer immediately upon his detention; a detainee has a right to legal representation; a first judicial review of the detention warrant has to take place in a district court no longer than 14 days after the first arrest, and every six months thereafter; and the detainee can appeal his detention before a Supreme Court j udge. The court must revoke the detention order if it finds that the release of the detainee would not threaten national security or if there are other special reasons that justify it.

Regulations promulgated under the law stipulate conditions for detention. These include provisions on medical treatment, clothing, food (including the right to purchase items in a canteen), outdoor exercises, religious practices, correspondence with the outside world, and even cigarettes. Unlike the US bill, in Israel, the detainee also has a right to meet with representatives of the International Committee of the Red Cross.

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