Attorneys Argue Senate Bills
Would Allow for Lifelong Detention Without Trial, Torture
Both proposed bills in the Senate strip away the right to habeas
corpus and cut back the ability of rape survivors of to hold
their perpetrators accountable. We speak with Michael Ratner of
the Center for Constitutional Rights.
Broadcast : 08/19/06 Democracy Now! - Runtime 20Minutes
AMY GOODMAN: New details have been revealed on the
Republican divide over the Bush administration's plan for the
treatment of prisoners in U.S. custody. Newsweek magazine
reports the administration wants to maintain at least seven
existing CIA interrogation methods for use against high-level
detainees. The techniques include induced hypothermia, long
periods of forced standing, sleep deprivation and so-called
The administration is facing resistance from three key
Republican senators on the Armed Services Committee: John
McCain, Lindsey Graham and John Warner. The three senators
helped pass a measure last week affirming Common Article 3 of
the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits inhumane treatment.
To talk about this debate over interrogation tactics, Michael
Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights, joins
us in our studio in New York. Welcome, Michael, to Democracy
MICHAEL RATNER: Welcome, Amy.
AMY GOODMAN: It's good to have you with us. Talk about
this debate that’s going on within the Republican Party.
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, what's extraordinary about
everything that’s going on now in Washington -- you know, you
just covered the Maher Arar case, and sadly none of it, none of
it, would really stop what happened to Maher Arar, which is the
taking of someone, outsourcing torture to another country,
sending him to a place where he could be tortured. So I want to
just start, that this is an important debate in Washington, but
it’s not going to stop the tragic cases like Maher Arar, of
which I think there's many, many cases. I just want to make that
The debate is really in Washington on three issues. One of
them has not been covered at all. The first issue is what kind
of interrogation techniques can be used. Can torture be used?
Can you violate Common Article 3? Can you use those techniques
you spoke about, including, I think, waterboarding, which is the
mock drowning of somebody? And on those issues, McCain, Warner
and Graham have taken a position that they don't want those
used. And so, we're at loggerheads between two factions of the
Republicans right now. I don't know how it will come out. I
certainly hope that McCain and Warner stick, and Graham, to
their position on that.
But there’s two other issues going on, one of which has not
been covered at all. One is, of course, the military
commissions, and again the McCain bill, which is not the
administration bill, is better on that as well. It doesn't allow
you to use evidence from torture. It makes sure that the
defendant in a military commission is present at trial and gives
a person more rights at a military commission.
But the third issue, which has not been covered, is, to me,
very critical and is in both of the pieces of legislation. In
both the administration bill and in the McCain-Graham-Warner
bill, in both cases you abolish the writ of habeas corpus. The
government, the Congress, is abolishing the writ of habeas
corpus. The habeas corpus writ is the right to challenge your
detention once you’re picked up by the United States. It would
apply to Guantanamo. It would apply to everybody in Bagram. And
it basically says that anybody picked up, now or in the future
or who is there now, no longer has the writ of habeas corpus.
For some reason, for some peculiar reason, nobody is really
covering this in the media. Yes, they’re covering the McCain
debate over waterboarding and torture and somewhat on the
military commissions, but not really the denial of the
abolishment of the fundamental writ. If we look at Maher Arar,
his is one of the cases. I mean, there may be Maher Arars
-- or are, as I know -- in places like Guantanamo and other
places in the world, and without an ability to bring those cases
to court, the United States can continue or the administration
can continue doing what it did to Maher Arar.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, again, maybe part of the reason we
don't hear much about this is a lack of understanding of writ of
habeas corpus. I mean, it's not even in English. Explain,
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, it actually comes initially out
of the Magna Carta in 1215. And it had to do with when the king
just believed he could pick up people anywhere in the world,
throw them into a dungeon, never give them a court hearing, and
you’d never hear from them again, essentially disappear them.
Out of a long struggle for peoples’ rights, the writ of habeas
corpus emerged. Then, when we wrote our Constitution in the
United States, it was considered the fundamental right
essentially against a police state and can only be suspended in
cases of rebellion or things like that.
And what it really says is that if a king or the president
picks me up anywhere in the world, that I have a right to go
into court and say, “What are your reasons for detaining me?” It
doesn't say you have to be freed. But it says you have to come
up -- government -- come up with a legal reason for detaining
me. In other words, it takes detentions, disappearances and puts
them into the light of a courtroom, where the government has to
justify the detention.
That's the fundamental right that we at the Center for
Constitutional Rights won for those people at Guantanamo and
which this congress and this president have continuously tried
to beat back. We won it in 2004. We got a legislation that
Congress had passed to try and get rid of it. We won that again
in 2006. And now they’re trying to get rid of it again.
It's really, Amy, the fundamental right that protects
us against just arbitrary arrest and disappearance. It's
absolutely crucial. And so far, unfortunately -- I just want to
emphasize this -- both the administration bill and the McCain
bill abolish the writ of habeas corpus. And there should be a
massive, massive public campaign about that. People can go to
the Center's website and get information about that and get to
their senators and say, “Don't abolish the writ.” This is the
protection that will protect the Maher Arars in the world, that
protect our Guantanamo detainees and protect people who are
really disappeared all over the world.
AMY GOODMAN: No Democrats have stood up to defend
MICHAEL RATNER: Oh, no. There are some. It's
happening. I mean, it's just not in the public dialogue or
discourse right now. But certainly within the Senate, there are
Democrats who are extremely, extremely concerned by the
abolishment of the writ of habeas corpus. The problem is, right
now, of course, in an election year, Democrats feel they don't
want to necessarily oppose the administration on that issue.
They are happy to see the Republicans and the Democrats fight
about, you know, the use of torture, and they’re not really
raising this issue. But let me just say, abolishment of the
writ, those who abolish it will really go down in infamy as
really taking away the fundamental constitutional right,
a right that goes back to 1215.
I still believe that we have a chance of sustaining and
allowing that writ to continue, but we are at an extremely
serious juncture. This administration does not want courts
examining what it does to people like Maher Arar or our clients
at Guantanamo or what it's doing around the world to detainees.
And that's why it wants to get rid of the writ. And it's really
a legal and political and moral outrage. You know, I couldn't --
in your story on Maher Arar, big tears -- I have to tell you --
just rolled down my eyes for him and what we did to this human
being. And sadly, sadly, that's only one of the cases. There are
scores, if not hundreds, of cases right now, where people who
are innocent or people who have not made any kind of attacks
against the United States, but were picked up on flimsy
evidence, like Arar was, are in detention and are unable to get
any hearings in federal court. It's really an outrage. And that
Congress would now give this authority -- would take this
authority for habeas away is just a remarkable -- it’s
breathtaking when you think about it.
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Ratner, I asked Maria LaHood
about this, your colleague at the Center for Constitutional
Rights, but now that this Canadian report has come out, that has
to be such an incredible embarrassment to both the Canadian
government, but also the U.S. The only thing the U.S. government
has protecting it now is that the U.S. press hardly picks up on
this, right? Maher Arar was the Time newsmaker of the
year in Canada. That was Canadian Time. His name is
hardly known in this country. But the judge threw out the case
here. Can you reinstate it?
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, we’re going on appeal on this
case, so I would hope that the Court of Appeals sees through
what this judge did. I mean, Maria's point, that essentially
they argue now that somehow this is going to hurt our relations
with Canada is absurd. Canada has said exactly what happened.
There was never really a threat there. It was an excuse to get
rid of this case. But I would imagine that the circuit is going
to reinstate this case. This really is the case that brings to
the fore and to the foreground the illegality and the harm and
the torture that is caused by our detention policies.
You know, one of the things about the Maher Arar case, when
it came into the lower court, the district court, the judge in
part of his opinion actually wrote that it may be okay or not
unconstitutional to torture in the name of terrorism. This, to
me, is how far this country has gone, that people, even federal
judges, are willing to say that. We are so far away from what I
consider to be civilized norms of a society right now, that
Maher Arar's case really stands for just the real terror that
this country is now imposing, sadly, on people all over the
world in detention.
AMY GOODMAN: Is it just the Republican debate that has
opened up this discussion in the press around the issue of
MICHAEL RATNER: Well, no. It's not just the Republican
debate. It's certainly been helpful, because, you know, despite
the fact that we have all been saying -- everybody knows from
the Rumsfeld techniques at Guantanamo to everything we've
brought out, to many reports, that torture is, you know, the
coin of the realm right now in this country, that sadly the
Democrats and the press have been unwilling to take it on and
label it what it is and really nail the people from Rumsfeld and
others, who have approved it. And so, only now that the
Republicans are standing up -- a few of them -- a little bit are
we getting some courage in the press and some in the Democrats
to stand up and say, ‘Hey, guys. You know, we’re torturing
people. We've been doing it for five years. Maybe we shouldn't.”
But let me say, I have been appalled that for five years I’m
living in a country that is openly torturing people and
essentially proud of it. And despite that, there has been
basically pipsqueaks out of the press and out of Congress. You
don't see them saying, “Stop this. Stop this. Stop this.”
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Ratner, we just have ten seconds.
But whatever comes out, with the bill out of the Senate, out of
the Congress, couldn't President Bush just sign a signing
statement, as he's done more than 800 times, and not abide by
whatever it was that was passed?
MICHAEL RATNER: He could certainly do a signing
statement, like you said, and say, “I’m not going to enforce
this bill. I’m still going to torture people.” It would be
unconstitutional. It would be illegal. It would be essentially a
war crime to do it, in my view. But the way this president has
gone, my belief is that he has committed war crimes.
AMY GOODMAN: Michael Ratner, president of the Center
for Constitutional Rights, thank you for joining us.
To purchase an audio or video copy of this entire program,
click here for online ordering or call 1 (888) 999-3877.
(In accordance with Title 17
U.S.C. Section 107, this material is distributed without profit
to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the
included information for research and educational purposes.
Information Clearing House has no affiliation whatsoever with
the originator of this article nor is Information Clearing House
endorsed or sponsored by the originator.)