Military Commissions Act S.3930: Barack Obama Responds to Constituent Mail, Defends Habeas Corpus and the Geneva Convention

If you recall, the Military Commissions Act was passed quickly, with little advance publicity or debate. There was a little buzz the night before suggesting the vote would be immediately the next morning and the Republicans intended to pass it without any amendments. That morning, I called the offices of both senators Durbin and Obama to urge them to vote no, and followed up with an Email to both senators. The contents of the Email was brief. It said “Please vote no on detainee torture S.3930″, signed with my fist and last name, ward, and precinct number. (How many people know their precinct number?) I received an immediate reply from Senator Durbin’s office, and Senator Obama’s office responded shortly after the November election, on Nov. 15. If you recall, Obama was very much in demand as a speaker for the ‘06 campaign trail. The odd marks in the text are just as I received them on a yahoo account, however I’ve deleted my first name from the top of the letter..

Dear {first name},

Thank you for contacting me regarding the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (S. 3930). I understand your concerns. As you probably know, I voted against the bill, which passed by a vote of 65-34 on September 28, 2006.Â

 This legislation was offered in response to the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hamdan case, which overturned the military tribunal system the President established for trying the detainees at Guantanamo. In response to the Supreme Court’s decision, the President proposed a system that would weaken both the nation’s commitment to the Geneva Conventions and our constitutional principles. I was pleased that the Senate Armed Services Committee rejected the President’s original proposal and passed a bipartisan bill (S. 3901). Unfortunately, that bipartisan alternative was rejected by the Administration and replaced by legislation that weakens the nation’s Geneva Convention obligations and seriously undermines important constitutional tenets, such as habeas corpus.Â

 Furthermore, the Congressional debate – and its ultimate decision – on this legislation occurred before we even saw the final compromise. Consideration of this bill was rushed in both chambers, where dissenting views were quickly dismissed or disregarded altogether.

The House of Representatives took up the bill under a special rule that barred all Democratic amendments. During the Senate debate, Republican leaders allowed votes on only four amendments, all of which were defeated on party-line votes. Those amendments, which I supported, could have improved the bill significantly without placing any burden on our national security efforts. Senator Rockefeller of West Virginia, for example, offered an amendment aimed at improving oversight of the program, and required only that the Pentagon submit quarterly reports to Congress on its activities. Congressional oversight of the Executive Branch is a constitutionally-endowed responsibility of Congress. I am disappointed that this common sense provision was rejected in favor of politics.

While no president should be deprived of the tools necessary to keep America safe, the hurried pre-election debate and vote on this bill is another sign that some politicians are using the national security debate to question their opponents’ commitment to fighting terrorism.  It is my hope that policymakers focus on keeping the nation safe and preserving the values that make our country the envy of the world, not on scoring tactical political advantage as an election approaches.Â

 Thank you again for writing. Please continue to stay in touch.


Barack Obama
United States Senator

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