Mr. President, I am proud
to be sponsoring this amendment with the senior senator from West
Virginia. He's absolutely right that Congress has abrogated its
oversight responsibilities, and one way to reverse that troubling
trend is to adopt a sunset provision in this bill. We did that in
the Patriot Act, and that allowed us to make important revisions
to the bill that reflected our experience about what worked and
didn't work during the previous 5 years. We should do that again
with this important piece of legislation.
But I want to take a few
minutes to speak more broadly about the bill before us.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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. The problem is that the structure of the military
proceedings has been poorly thought through. Indeed, the regulations
that are supposed to be governing administrative hearings for these
detainees, which should have been issued months ago, still haven't
been issued. Instead, we have rushed through a bill that stands
a good chance of being challenged once again in the Supreme Court.
This is not how a serious
Administration would approach the problem of terrorism. I know the
President came here today and was insisting that this is supposed
to be our primary concern. He's absolutely right it should be our
primary concern - which is why we should be approaching this with
a somberness and seriousness that this Administration has not displayed
with this legislation.
Now, let me be clear -
for those who plot terror against the United States, I hope God
has mercy on their soul, because I certainly do not. And for those
who our government suspects of terror, I support whatever tools
are necessary to try them and uncover their plot.
But we also know that some
have been detained who have no connection to terror whatsoever.
We've already had reports from the CIA and various generals over
the last few years saying that many of the detainees at Guantanamo
shouldn't have been there - as one U.S. commander of Guantanamo
told the Wall Street Journal, "Sometimes, we just didn't get
the right folks." And we all know about the recent case of
the Canadian man who was suspected of terrorist connections, detained
in New York, sent to Syria, and tortured, only to find out later
that it was all a case of mistaken identity and poor information.
In the future, people like
this may never have a chance to prove their innocence. They may
remain locked away forever.
And the sad part about
all of this is that this betrayal of American values is unnecessary.
We could've drafted a bipartisan, well-structured bill that provided
adequate due process through the military courts, had an effective
review process that would've prevented frivolous lawsuits being
filed and kept lawyers from clogging our courts, but upheld the
basic ideals that have made this country great.
Instead, what we have is
a flawed document that in fact betrays the best instincts of some
of my colleagues on both sides of the aisle - those who worked in
a bipartisan fashion in the Armed Services Committee to craft a
bill that we could have been proud of. And they essentially got
steamrolled by this Administration and by the imperatives of November
That is not how we should
be doing business in the U.S. Senate, and that's not how we should
be prosecuting this war on terrorism. When we're sloppy and cut
corners, we are undermining those very virtues of America that will
lead us to success in winning this war. At bare minimum, I hope
we can at least pass this provision so that cooler heads can prevail
after the silly season of politics is over. Thank you.