2006 October 17

President George W. Bush Signs Military Commissions Law


President George W. Bush on this day signed into law the Military Commissions Act. The law was necessary because the Supreme Court had ruled just a few months earlier, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld on June 29, 2006, that Bush had violated both the U.S. Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions by creating military commissions through executive order to try terrorist suspects (see November 13, 2001).

Bush’s original military commissions were heavily criticized by civil libertarians and human rights activists. Trials were to be conducted in secret, with the defendant not permitted to confront and contest evidence presented against him, and non-unanimous verdicts of guilty were permitted. The new military commissions created on this day continued to have a number of significant civil liberties problems.

The most important precedent for president-ordered military tribunals involved the one created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt during World War II to try eight German saboteurs, who were captured soon after they landed in the U.S. in the spring of 1942. The Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of that military commission on July 31, 1942 (and see the written opinion on October 12, 1942), and six of the saboteurs were executed on August 8, 1942. Some historians and legal scholars, however, argue that the entire case involved numerous legal problems and cannot, therefore, be used as a precedent for other cases.

Learn more: Louis Fisher, Military Tribunals and Presidential Power: American Revolution to the War on Terrorism (2005)

And more: http://www.crf-usa.org/america-responds-to-terrorism/military-tribunals.html

And even about the military tribunals: http://www.humanrightsfirst.org/our-work/law-and-security/military-commissions/

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