The Supreme Court ruled last Thursday, by a 5-4 decision, in favor of protecting the right to Habeas Corpus for current detainees held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. Today, hearings are continuing in the Senate to discover the breadth and scope of the use of "harsh interrogation techniques" at both Guantanamo Bay and through the military and civilian intelligence communities.
Predictably, Senator John McCain announced his rejection of the Supreme Court's opinion and lamented that it will make America "less safe" and called it "one of the worst decisions in the history of this country."
McCain is wrong.
As a veteran of Operation Desert Shield and former Naval Flight Officer with 149 carrier landings, I can say with all due respect for Senator McCain's valiant naval service, McCain's assertion that this well-reasoned decision makes America "less safe" could not be further from the truth. Indeed, America is a more secure nation when we are a nation of laws and principles, not a nation of brute force, intimidation or torture.
Torture and Abuse Create More Enemies and More American Deaths
One of the most remarkable pieces of testimony in this week's Senate hearing has been the fact that commanders on the filed believe that the abuses at Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo Bay have been the most effective tool for recruiting insurgents for Al Qaida in Iraq and The Mahdi Army. Thus, this week's testimony makes clear that the price "harsh tactics" and torture of our prisoners has hurt America and increased the American death toll - not reduced it.
Unfortunately, this clear testimony will not reduce the accusations of weakness or naivety against those who call for the categorical end of torture and the full provision of habeas corpus rights to our prisoners.
In the world of sound bite politics, it is simply easier to be macho than to be right.
President Bush, the Republican Party leadership, and now John McCain have all failed to see that there are some American values that are so important that America should not abandon them, even in the face of hardship. The arguments in favor of abandoning habeas corpus for persons accused of being enemy combatants or of using torture disguised as mere "harsh techniques" make no sense, militarily, legally or from a foreign affairs perspective.
Torture and Abuse Do Not Work
As someone who has been water-boarded (as a part of my military POW training), I can tell you from firsthand experience that water-boarding torture is both torture and simply a lousy method to try and obtain accurate intelligence. A person who is being water-boarded will say anything to stop the torture.
The military has known for years that torture does not work. Specifically, information gained from torture is not reliable and usually false. That is why U.S. military doctrine for decades has been not to torture our prisoners. Torture is not just immoral, illegal and inhumane -- it is ineffective. Worse, now the testimony clarifies what we have known all along -- torture backfires because it creates more enemies. If we are battling for their hearts and minds, we should not be torturing their friends and neighbors.
Unfortunately, as the recent Senate testimony has revealed, when uniformed military lawyers tried to convince their civilian superiors that the so-called "harsh techniques" were illegal torture, their sound legal advice was ignored.
Habeas Corpus is the Constitutional Prevention for Detention Abuse
Just as we should not abandon our disdain for torture, we should not abandon the constitutional right to habeas corpus. The right to habeas corpus was the sole "liberty right" included in the Constitution prior to the bill of rights. Every society needs to have a procedure like habeas corpus to prevent to detention of prisoners illegally.
Most of us who have served in uniform and placed our life on the line for the constitution believe that the constitution stands for something. One of those things is habeas corpus. If the government can throw you into prison without a charge or without judicial review, then there is no freedom and there is no liberty. That is why habeas corpus is so important.
Upholding Habeas Corpus Will Not Negatively Affect our Troops
The Supreme Court's opinion upholding habeas corpus rights is very well reasoned. It notes the need for and provides for operational military flexibility. It notes that there is a big difference between the speed and confusion of military battle, where our troops need to place their own safety first, and what occurs five or six years later. It notes that there are functional equals to habeas corpus that have not been tried. It also notes that the Suspension Clause allows the actual suspension of habeas corpus, but that the Congress and president did not choose to invoke the Suspension Clause.
Thus, the Supreme Court's opinion, far from handcuffing soldiers in the field, actually asserts that the required flexibility will be given to our brave men and women in uniform, but that this can be done without abandoning the basic liberty-principles contained within habeas corpus.
Republican Abandonment of Principles -- including Habeas Corpus -- is Nothing New
As a former Republican activist who started volunteering for congressional Republicans at the age of 12, one of the main reasons I left the Republican Party was over its failure to maintain adequate respect for the constitutional safeguards, including the Doctrine of Separation of Powers, once it took over power.
The GOP's recent trend toward an enlarged government, abandonment of Constitutional principles, and complete disregard for fiscally responsibility has lead this formerly self-described "conservative" to join the Democratic Party and run for Congress in Texas' 32nd District as a Democrat.
Indeed, I am not shocked that Senator McCain and many Republican leaders so quickly made known their disagreement with the Court's 5-4 decision enforcing the requirements of habeas corpus. Only a few years ago the Republican controlled Senate confirmed an attorney general candidate named Alberto Gonzales who had amazingly testified that Habeas Corpus was not even in the Constitution.
As a lawyer who loves our constitution and our constitutional liberties, the confirmation of an Attorney General who so clearly did not understand the Constitution saddened me greatly. However, Attorney General Gonzales' confirmation was a big indication of how low an understanding of Constitutional liberty is maintained by Republican leadership.
Freedom Isn't Free -- It Requires Vigilance to Principles
America has enemies and those enemies are real. For America to stand strong and persevere in the face of its enemies, it must stay true to the very principles that it was founded on. That is why many constitutionalists are leaving the Republican Party and aligning with the Democratic Party. At a time when the Republicans have strayed so far out of the mainstream view of Constitutional precedent, there is little room in the GOP for a person who values separation of powers, restrained government, and the rule of law.
America is supposed to be a nation of laws, not people. Yet many Republicans in Congress sat silently when this administration initiated more signing statements than any administration before -- many signing statements that contrary to former precedent did not merely seek to prevent ambiguity, but that boldly and fictitiously asserted radical Constitutional notions that the President need not obey the law whenever his motive is either national security or foreign affairs.
We are supposed to be a nation of respect for our constitutional framework. Since when does it make America stronger to abandon our Constitutional Rights such as Habeas Corpus? Since when does it make America stronger to abandon American values and torture our prisoners or hold people without evidence?
We Do Not Make America Stronger by Being Un-American
The worst aspect of the current Republican leadership's abandonment of Constitutional and American values is that they are doing it in the name of making America stronger. One would never claim that a marriage is made stronger by abandoning marital fidelity and committing adultery. Yet current calls of Republican leadership to abandon habeas corpus are the political equal -- an attempt to make America stronger by abandoning America's fidelity to its sacred vows contained in our Constitution. America is not stronger when it abandons its principles - America is weaker.
The foundation of America is Liberty. Patrick Henry said, "Give me Liberty or give me death." Benjamin Franklin had it right when he said that the person who would abandon liberty for the sake of security deserves neither.
America deserves both liberty and security. It is simply false to argue America cannot have both. That is why when I am elected to Congress, I will stand up for Constitutional values no matter what person or party seeks to abandon them.
America is not stronger when it abandons its principles -- America is stronger when it sticks to its principles.
Democratic Nominee for U.S. Congress
Texas' 32nd District