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Friday, October 09, 2009

House passes amendments to Military Commissions Act
Jaclyn Belczyk at 2:44 PM ET

[JURIST] The US House of Representatives [official website] on Thursday passed a bill [HR 2647 materials] that amends the Military Commissions Act of 2006 [text, PDF] to provide suspected terrorists with greater due process rights. The Military Commissions Act of 2009 [text, PDF] was approved by a vote of 281-146 [roll call] as part of the National Defense Authorization Act granting $681 billion in military appropriations for the 2010 fiscal year. Among the bill's provisions are limitations on the use of hearsay or coerced evidence and greater defense access to witnesses and evidence. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) [advocacy website] said that while the bill represents an improvement over the current system, it still contains unconstitutional provisions [press release]:


While this bill contains substantial improvements to the current military commissions, the system remains fatally flawed and contrary to basic principles of American justice. While the bill takes positive steps by restricting coerced and hearsay evidence and providing greater defense counsel resources, it still falls short of providing the due process required by the Constitution. The military commissions were created to circumvent the Constitution and result in quick convictions, not to achieve real justice.

Human Rights Watch (HRW) [advocacy website] said [press release] that the amendments "fail[] to remedy the system's serious flaws." Also included in Thursday's bill were provisions expanding the definition of federal hate crimes [JURIST report] to include crimes motivated by gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability. The bill must now be approved by the Senate.

The use of military commissions [JURIST news archive] to try suspected terrorists remains controversial. Last month, the government sought additional delays [JURIST report] in the proceedings against several Guantanamo detainees. Earlier in September, military lawyers for Guantanamo detainee and alleged 9/11 co-conspirator Ramzi bin al-Shibh [JURIST news archive] asked [petition, PDF] the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit [official website] to declare the Military Commissions Act of 2006 unconstitutional [JURIST report]. In July, a former prosecutor at Guantanamo testified [JURIST report] before the House Judiciary Committee [official website] that the military commission system is "broken beyond repair."





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