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Military Commissions Act assailed by rights groups after signing

[JURIST] Advocacy groups and policymakers have reacted strongly to the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [PDF text; S 3930 summary], signed into law [JURIST report] by President Bush on Tuesday, calling it a denial of civil liberties while predicting it will fold under court scrutiny. The ACLU said the bill denies due process and constitutional protections [press release] to detainees, placing Guantanamo Bay and other US facilities abroad in a "legal no-man's land." Former Congresswoman Elisabeth Holtzman brought attention to a provision of the law she says grants a pardon [press release] to "President Bush and his top Cabinet officials for any crimes they may have committed under the War Crimes Act of 1996." House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), who was criticized by House Speaker Dennis Hastert (R-IL) for placing politics before security by voting against the bill, also reiterated her opposition [press release] to provisions that "allow the President to interpret the Geneva Conventions through executive order."

The Legal Director of the Center for Constitutional Rights predicted [press release; briefing paper] that the bill will be struck down by the Supreme Court because "the provision of the MCA that strips the right of habeas corpus is a direct violation of the suspension clause of the U.S. Constitution because it denies non-citizens a meaningful opportunity to challenge the legality of their detention." To that end, CCR has filed in district court several new challenges to the habeas corpus provisions [JURIST report] of the commissions bill. Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) also called the legislation "seriously flawed" [press release], noting that "Its evisceration of the writ of habeas corpus for all non-citizens is almost surely unconstitutional, and so is its attempt to legalize the use of evidence obtained by torture."

The military commissions bill [JURIST news archive] became necessary after the US Supreme Court ruled in June that the commissions, as initially constituted, lacked proper legal authorization [JURIST report]. The law provides statutory authorization for military commission trials for Guantanamo Bay [JURIST news archive] and the Bush administration has promised to immediately take steps toward beginning prosecution [briefing transcript; AP report]. A senior state department official said last week that as many as 80 detainees could face trial by military commission [JURIST report]. AFP has more. CNS News has additional coverage.

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