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Sen Barack Obama Reacts to US Bill Approving Torture

Human Rights Should Be Bigger than Politics

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Senator Barack Obama delivered this speech on the floor of the US Senate, in reaction to Senate passage of S. 3930, Military Commissions Act of 2006, which approved U.S. torture of detainees and strips Constitutional rights away from detainees.

Senator Obama decries the placement of politics over human rights, and condemns S. 3930. He states, "This is not how a serious Administration would approach the problem of terrorism."

STATEMENT ON THE MILITARY COMMISSION LEGISLATION

September 28, 2006
Remarks by Senator Barack Obama

"I may have only been in this body for a short while, but I am not naive to the political considerations that go along with many of the decisions we make here.

I realize that soon, we will adjourn for the fall, and the campaigning will begin in earnest. And there will be 30-second attack ads and negative mail pieces, and we will be criticized as caring more about the rights of terrorists than the protection of Americans. And I know that the vote before us was specifically designed and timed to add more fuel to that fire.

Human Rights Should Be Bigger Than Politics

And yet, while I know all of this, I'm still disappointed. Because what we're doing here today - a debate over the fundamental human rights of the accused - should be bigger than politics. This is serious.

If this was a debate with obvious ideological differences - heartfelt convictions that couldn't be settled by compromise - I would understand. But it's not.

All of us - Democrats and Republicans - want to do whatever it takes to track down terrorists and bring them to justice as swiftly as possible. All of us want to give our President every tool necessary to do this. And all of us were willing to do that in this bill. Anyone who says otherwise is lying to the American people.

Unconstitutional

In the five years that the President's system of military tribunals has existed, not one terrorist has been tried. Not one has been convicted. And in the end, the Supreme Court of the United found the whole thing unconstitutional, which is why we're here today.

We could have fixed all of this in a way that allows us to detain and interrogate and try suspected terrorists while still protecting the accidentally accused from spending their lives locked away in Guantanamo Bay. Easily. This was not an either-or question.

  • Instead of allowing this President - or any President - to decide what does and does not constitute torture, we could have left the definition up to our own laws and to the Geneva Conventions, as we would have if we passed the bill that the Armed Services committee originally offered.

  • Instead of detainees arriving at Guantanamo and facing a Combatant Status Review Tribunal that allows them no real chance to prove their innocence with evidence or a lawyer, we could have developed a real military system of justice that would sort out the suspected terrorists from the accidentally accused.

  • And instead of not just suspending, but eliminating, the right of habeas corpus - the seven century-old right of individuals to challenge the terms of their own detention, we could have given the accused one chance - one single chance - to ask the government why they are being held and what they are being charged with.
Politics Won Today

But politics won today. Politics won. The Administration got its vote, and now it will have its victory lap, and now they will be able to go out on the campaign trail and tell the American people that they were the ones who were tough on the terrorists.

  • And yet, we have a bill that gives the terrorist mastermind of 9/11 his day in court, but not the innocent people we may have accidentally rounded up and mistaken for terrorists - people who may stay in prison for the rest of their lives.

  • And yet, we have a report authored by sixteen of our own government's intelligence agencies, a previous draft of which described, and I quote, "...actions by the United States government that were determined to have stoked the jihad movement, like the indefinite detention of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay..."

  • And yet, we have Al Qaeda and the Taliban regrouping in Afghanistan while we look the other way. We have a war in Iraq that our own government's intelligence says is serving as Al Qaeda's best recruitment tool. And we have recommendations from the bipartisan 9/11 commission that we still refuse to implement five years after the fact.
The problem with this bill is not that it's too tough on terrorists. The problem with this bill is that it's sloppy.

And the reason it's sloppy is because we rushed it to serve political purposes instead of taking the time to do the job right.

I've heard, for example, the argument that it should be military courts, and not federal judges, who should make decisions on these detainees. I actually agree with that.

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