Efforts by Congress and the administration to diminish laws designed to protect the rights of people detained in the war on terror are anail inAmericas coffinas the worlds moral authority, according to Mary Ellen OConnell, a law professor at the University of Notre Dame.
The issue has come to the fore in recent weeks, most recently on Thursday when the Senate voted to strip capturedenemy combatantsatGuantánamo Bay,Cuba, of the legal right to challenge their detentions inU.S.courts. If ultimately passed, the measure would nullify a Supreme Court ruling in June 2004 that gave that right to detainees.
In a related, but separate, case, the Supreme Court earlier last week announced that it would consider the legality of war crimes trials before military commissions for certain detainees at Guantánamo Bay.
In addition, Congress has been addressing detainee treatment, especially during interrogation. Last month, the Senate passed the McCain amendment to the Pentagons budget bill, mandating that no individual under the physical control of theU.S.government may be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment. The Bush administration has threatened to veto the bill if the amendment is attached.Vice President Cheney has been pressing for an exemption for the CIA even while it came to light that the CIA is runningblack sitesinEastern Europe.
In an op-ed published last week in the Baltimore Sun in support of the McCain amendment, OConnell and a colleague at Georgia Tech, wrote:For more than a half century, the United States has led in establishing an international order devoted toadvancing the common good. For its efforts, (the nation) has been seen as a moral authority and a force for good. In turn, it has gained the respect and admiration of nations and people around the world.
Unfortunately, over the past four and a half year,U.S.policies have undermined the good will created by successive American administrations over more than 50 years. Since the beginning of the global war on terror, the Bush administration . has consistently engaged in interrogation and prison handling practices that have been at odds with the international legal norms to which it subscribes. It is a dark irony that these unlawful practices are also counterproductive to efforts to gain reliable intelligence on terrorist operations. They may well endanger the lives and well being of American servicemen and women, are repugnant to the American people and the international community, and undermineAmericas stature and moral authority in the world.
_ Contact: Mary Ellen OConnell is available for further comment on these issues at 574-631-7953 or MaryEllenOConnell@nd.edu . The preceding comments are for use in whole or part._