Some Members of Congress Move to Restore Civil Rights, America's Honor

By McArthur, Shirl | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, September 2004 | Go to article overview

Some Members of Congress Move to Restore Civil Rights, America's Honor


McArthur, Shirl, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


Both houses of Congress have been increasingly preoccupied with trying to get their priority egislation, especially the appropriations bills, dealt with, so that members can tend to the important business of getting re-elected. As a result, there has been little action on Middle East-related matters. Even the Abu Ghraib prison scandal and the bungling of he aftermath of the Bush administration's ill-considered and ill-advised invasion and occupation of Iraq has led only to much congressional hand-wringing and not much action, apart from a few hearings by the Senate Armed Services Committee, headed by Sen. John Warner (R-VA).

There are signs, however, that at least a few members of Congress are trying to shake the timidity that has seemed to plague both houses since the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks. Efforts are afoot, especially in the Senate, to curb some of the most egregious violations of civil liberties undertaken by the Bush administration since 9/11, to write into law the banning of "cruel, inhuman and degrading" treatment of prisoners, in accordance with the U.S. constitution and international law, and to toughen the hate-crimes law.

On June 16, Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-MA), accompanied by Sens. Jon Corzine (D-NJ), Richard Durbin (D-IL), RUSS Feingold (D-WI) and Patrick Leahy (D-VT), introduced S. 2528, the "Civil Liberties Restoration Act of 2004," to "restore civil liberties under the First Amendment, the Immigration and Nationality Act, and the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act." On the same day, an identical bill, H.R. 4591, was introduced in the House by Reps. Howard Berman (D-CA) and William Delahunt (D-MA). Among other things, the bill would ban the practice of blanket secret trials except in cases where the government can show that closing a case "is necessitated by a compelling governmental interest and is narrowly tailored to serve that interest." It would also require that people detained for immigration violations be advised of the charges within 48 hours and given the right to a fair bond hearing, and would limit so-called "data-mining," the practice of feeding individuals' personal information into a data base that can be used by the government without their knowledge. The bill would require all federal agencies to report annually to Congress on their data-mining programs in use and the effect of those programs on civil liberties and privacy.

In introducing the bill in the Senate, Kennedy said it would "provide basic civil liberties protections,...restore balance and fairness to our laws in the treatment of immigrants," and "preserve fundamental rights without endangering national security."

Defense Authorization Includes Torture, Hate Crimes Amendments

The Defense Authorization bill is one of the measures Congress feels it must pass before adjournment. The Senate version, S. 2400, includes amendments to "affirm that the United States may not engage in torture or cruel, inhuman, or degrading treatment or punishment" of prisoners, and to expand the 1968 hate crimes law.

The anti-torture amendment, the bill's 3386th, was proposed by Durbin. It would require the Bush administration to issue "rules, regulation, or guidelines" to assure that detainees are treated humanely, to submit those rules, regulations, or guidelines to congressional defense committees, and to report any violations promptly to Congress. The amendment was passed by voice vote because, according to The Washington Post, which cited Democratic sources, the Republicans did not want to be put on record with a roll call vote.

The hate-crimes amendment, number 3183, was proposed by Sens. Kennedy and Gordon Smith (R-OR). It would expand the definition of hate crimes to allow federal prosecution of crimes based on sexual orientation, gender, or disabilities, in addition to "actual or perceived race, color, religion, or national origin." It also would provide federal assistance to state and local governments for investigating and prosecuting hate crimes. …

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