WASHINGTON, DC – House Democratic Whip Steny H. Hoyer (MD) made the following statement today regarding H.R. 6166, the Military Commissions Act:
“Mr. Speaker, I wanted nothing more than to come to this Floor today and vote for a military commissions bill that comports with our American values; that the rest of the world sees as fair and humane; that honors our international commitments and protects our own troops who fall into enemy hands; and that the Supreme Court can uphold.
“Make no mistake: Every single member of this House wants our President to have the intelligence necessary to prevent future terrorist attacks on our nation and our allies. Every single one of us wants those responsible for 9/11 and other terrorist acts to be tried fairly and punished accordingly. And, we want those convictions to be upheld by our courts.
“But regrettably, the bill before us today falls far short of the high standards that this Congress and the American people expect and demand.
“This legislation, at bottom, is really more about who we are as a people than it is about those who seek to harm us. Defending America requires us to marshal the full range of our power – diplomatic and military, economic and moral. And when our moral standing is eroded, our international credibility is diminished, as well.
“We must not lightly dismiss the somber warning of our former Secretary of State and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Colin Powell, who has stated: ‘The world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism.’
“I fear this legislation before us will further diminish our credibility.
“While this bill properly lists as punishable offenses certain ‘grave breaches’ of Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, it leaves almost unfettered discretion to the Administration to define anything less than such ‘grave breaches.’
“Why should we be concerned about providing this Administration with such discretion? Because our President and his Attorney General have routinely flouted Congressional authority with signing statements and legal interpretations that give them unfettered authority.
“As the Washington Post has stated: ‘The Bush Administration’s history is one of interpreting limitations on interrogation tactics – including Mr. McCain’s previous legislation banning cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment – as permitting methods most people regard as torture.’
“Furthermore, this bill eliminates the fundamental legal right of habeas corpus. And, the bill would greatly minimize judicial oversight by establishing a new appeals process and centralizing consideration of cases in the District of Columbia Court of Appeals, thus stripping other appellate courts from hearing cases currently pending before them.
“Mr. Speaker, I am absolutely committed to winning the war on terrorism and bringing terrorists in American custody to justice. However, I also believe we have an obligation to do so in a manner that is consistent with our values, that secures just convictions, and that enhances our international credibility, thereby strengthening our national security.
“This bill does not establish such a process. Regrettably, I must vote against it.”