The bill itself is, to put it gently, indefensible. The Washington Post sums up just a few of its naked violations against the civil rights we've expected since the era of the Magna Carta:
The Senate joined the House in embracing President Bush's view that the battle against terrorism justifies the imposition of extraordinary limits on defendants' traditional rights in the courtroom. They include restrictions on a suspect's ability to challenge his detention, examine all evidence against him, and bar testimony allegedly acquired through coercion of witnesses.
It's important to note that the most horrifying portions of this bill are how they eviscerate protections at the procedural level. One can believe that we should treat illegal combatants differently than POWs--I agree. But as was pointed out by Stanford Law Professor and detainee expert Jenny Martinez, it is an inversion of basic principles of justice to apply said punishment as part of the procedure for determining who deserves the punishment itself. Or to use her rhetoric:
Holding military commission trials that do not afford basic due process is...like saying that the best way to deter street crime is by subjecting street criminals to kangaroo courts. The necessary deterrence ought to be provided by the ultimate punishment imposed, not by the process itself. [emphasis added]
Or in otherwords, "you're a terrorist, so you can't challenge whether you're a terrorist, because that would give terrorists rights." It's unreal.
It seems there are two minds among commenters opposed to this radical abuse of power. The basic question is whether or not the Senators and Representatives really recognized the gravity of what they've done. Two of the most respected legal scholars in America today could barely contain their shock over the bill's provisions:
University of Texas constitutional law professor Sanford V. Levinson described the bill in an Internet posting as the mark of a "banana republic." Yale Law School Dean Harold Koh said that "the image of Congress rushing to strip jurisdiction from the courts in response to a politically created emergency is really quite shocking, and it's not clear that most of the members understand what they've done."
On the one hand, it seems impossible that anyone could dispassionately look at these provisions, realize they are essentially disregarding the basic panoply of rights that have been protected since the 13th century, and still vote in favor of the bill. I can't believe that there are over 60 senators that really have that little respect for basic legal protections. On the other hand, this debate was public, open, and it seems equally impossible to believe that our elected representatives wholly ignored the huge cry of alarm that arose from those who recognized this bill for what it was. What exactly have they been doing over these past few weeks?
My own belief is that the people who voted for this bill deluded themselves. They are vaguely aware of how awful it is. But they have managed to convince themselves (by any number of intellectual gymnastics that I can't even fathom) that the bill is necessary, or not so bad, or that these are terrorists and we can do whatever we want to them, or soemthing. And thus they vote "yea", because they don't want to look weak (or they want to make Democrats look weak). After all, for all the desperate attempts for our constitutional guardians to sound the alarms, this bill went off with a whimper, not a bang. Whatever the reason, these people are not living in reality.
And as far as I can tell, I'm not living in America.