[JURIST] President George W. Bush on Friday signed a $453.3 billion defense spending bill [text; JURIST report] which contains provisions banning the cruel and inhumane treatment of detainees in US custody, but also eliminates the ability of Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] prisoners to challenge their detention in federal court. In a signing statement [text] the President reserved the right to construe the legislation consistent with his Commander-in-Chief powers and responsibility for national security; in a supplementary statement [text] he said:
The legislation...addresses the legal framework for U.S. detention and interrogation activities. The detention and interrogation of captured terrorists are critical tools in the war on terror. It is vital that our government gather intelligence to protect the American people from terrorist attacks, including critical information that may be obtained from those terrorists we have captured. At the same time, the Administration is committed to treating all detainees held by the United States in a manner consistent with our Constitution, laws, and treaty obligations, which reflect the values we hold dear. U.S. law and policy already prohibit torture. Our policy has also been not to use cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment, at home or abroad. This legislation now makes that a matter of statute for practices abroad. It also requires that the Defense Department's treatment of detainees be codified in the U.S. Army Field Manual.Bush also signed a one-month extension [JURIST report] of anti-terrorism provisions of the USA Patriot Act [JURIST news archive; PDF text], despite his preference for a permanent renewal [JURIST report] of provisions of the Act that were due to expire Saturday. The extension until February 3 will give Congress more time to debate adding additional civil liberties protections, including rules for wiretaps of multiple telephones, and court orders for records of businesses, libraries, bookstores and medical records. The White House had initially objected to both measures, but recent controversies such as the abuse of prisoners at Abu Ghraib [JURIST news archive], reports of secret CIA prisons in Europe [JURIST news archive], domestic eavesdropping by the NSA [JURIST news archive], and overwhelming congressional and international support for the ban on torture [JURIST report], may have swayed the President's decision to sign the legislation. Reuters has more.
These provisions reaffirm the values we share as a Nation and our commitment to the rule of law. As the sponsors of this legislation have stated, however, they do not create or authorize any right for terrorists to sue anyone, including our men and women on the front lines in the war on terror. These men and women deserve our respect and thanks for doing a difficult job in the interest of our country, not a rash of lawsuits brought by our enemies in our own courts. Far from authorizing such suits, this law provides additional liability protection for those engaged in properly authorized detention or interrogation of terrorists. I am pleased that the law also makes provision for providing legal counsel to and compensating our service members and other U.S. Government personnel for legal expenses in the event a terrorist attempts to sue them, in our courts or in foreign courts. I also appreciate the legislation's elimination of the hundreds of claims brought by terrorists at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, that challenge many different aspects of their detention and that are now pending in our courts.