I want to start
by asking you about a specific part of
this act that lists one of the
definitions of an unlawful enemy
combatant as, quote, “a person who,
before, on, or after the date of the
enactment of the Military Commissions
Act of 2006, has been determined to be
an unlawful enemy combatant by a
combatant status review tribunal or
another competent tribunal established
under the authority of the president or
the secretary of defense.”
Does that not
basically mean that if Mr. Bush or Mr.
Rumsfeld say so, anybody in this
country, citizen or not, innocent or
not, can end up being an unlawful enemy
JONATHAN TURLEY, GEORGE WASHINGTON
UNIVERSITY CONSTITUTIONAL LAW PROFESSOR:
It certainly does. In fact, later on,
it says that if you even give material
support to an organization that the
president deems connected to one of
these groups, you too can be an enemy
And the fact
that he appoints this tribunal is
meaningless. You know, standing behind
him at the signing ceremony was his
attorney general, who signed a memo that
said that you could torture people, that
you could do harm to them to the point
of organ failure or death.
So if he
appoints someone like that to be
attorney general, you can imagine who
he’s going be putting on this board.
OLBERMANN: Does this mean
that under this law, ultimately the only
thing keeping you, I, or the viewer out
of Gitmo is the sanity and honesty of
the president of the United States?
TURLEY: It does. And it’s
a huge sea change for our democracy.
The framers created a system where we
did not have to rely on the good graces
or good mood of the president. In fact,
Madison said that he created a system
essentially to be run by devils, where
they could not do harm, because we
didn’t rely on their good motivations.
Now we must.
And people have no idea how significant
this is. What, really, a time of shame
this is for the American system. What
the Congress did and what the president
signed today essentially revokes over
200 years of American principles and
It couldn’t be
more significant. And the strange thing
is, we’ve become sort of constitutional
couch potatoes. I mean, the Congress
just gave the president despotic powers,
and you could hear the yawn across the
country as people turned to, you know,
“Dancing with the Stars.” I mean, it’s
OLBERMANN: Is there one
defense against this, the legal
challenges against particularly the
suspension or elimination of habeas
corpus from the equation? And where do
they stand, and how likely are they to
overturn this action today?
TURLEY: Well, you know
what? I think people are fooling
themselves if they believe that the
courts will once again stop this
president from taking over—taking almost
absolute power. It basically comes down
to a single vote on the Supreme Court,
Justice Kennedy. And he indicated that
if Congress gave the president these
types of powers, that he might go along.
And so we may
have, in this country, some type of uber-president,
some absolute ruler, and it’ll be up to
him who gets put away as an enemy
combatant, held without trial.
that no one thought—certainly I didn’t
think—was possible in the United
States. And I am not too sure how we
got to this point. But people clearly
don’t realize what a fundamental change
it is about who we are as a country.
What happened today changed us. And I’m
not too sure we’re going to change back
OLBERMANN: And if Justice
Kennedy tries to change us back, we can
always call him an enemy combatant.
reiterated today the United States does
not torture. Does this law actually
guarantee anything like that?
TURLEY: That’s actually
when I turned off my TV set, because I
couldn’t believe it. You know, the
United States has engaged in torture.
And the whole world community has
denounced the views of this
administration, its early views that the
president could order torture, could
cause injury up to organ failure or
administration has already established
that it has engaged in things like
waterboarding, which is not just
torture. We prosecuted people after
World War II for waterboarding
prisoners. We treated it as a war
crime. And my God, what a change of
fate, where we are now embracing the
very thing that we once prosecuted
Who are we
now? I know who we were then. But when
the president said that we don’t
torture, that was, frankly, when I had
to turn off my TV set.
OLBERMANN: That same
individual fell back on the same
argument that he’d used about the war in
Iraq to sanction this law. Let me play
what he said and then ask you a question
PRESIDENT BUSH: Yet with
the distance of history, the questions
will be narrowed and few. Did this
generation of Americans take the threat
seriously? And did we do what it takes
to defeat that threat?
OLBERMANN: Does he
understand the irony of those words when
taken out of the context of this
particular passage or of what he
perceives as the war against terror, and
that, in fact, the threat we may be
facing is the threat of President George
TURLEY: Well, this is
going to go down in history as one of
our greatest self-inflicted wounds. And
I think you can feel the judgment of
history. It won’t be kind to President
But frankly, I
don’t think that it will be kind to the
rest of us. I think that history will
ask, Where were you? What did you do
when this thing was signed into law?
There were people that protested the
Japanese concentration camps, there were
people that protested these other acts.
But we are strangely silent in this
national yawn as our rights evaporate.
OLBERMANN: Well, not to
pat ourselves on the back too much, but
I think we’ve done a little bit of what
we could have done. I’ll see you at
Gitmo. As always, greatest thanks for
your time, Jon.
TURLEY: Thanks, Keith.