Thursday, October 19, 2006

Local protesters take issue with Military Commissions Act

Press Republican
Local protesters take issue with Military Commissions Act
By Kim Smith Dedeam

ELIZABETHTOWN, NJ — Some local residents are offended by the new Military Commissions Act, signed into law by President George Bush Tuesday.

"Magna Carta. We are talking centuries of creating a civilized way of treating people. This just blows it away," said Katharine Preston, a member of the Diogenes Society, a social-rights group based in Essex County.

"We espouse freedom and democracy, and then we shatter it at home. It doesn't make any sense."

In protest, a quiet group filled the courthouse porch and huddled under umbrellas on the lawn.

They read out loud a statement issued by the National Religious Campaign Against Torture, which said, in part:

"For the first time in our nation's history, legislation has now been signed into law that effectively permits evidence obtained by torture to be used in a court of law. The military tribunals that are trying some terrorist suspects are now expressly permitted to consider information obtained under coercive interrogation techniques, including degrading and inhumane techniques and torture."

Martha Swan, who organized Diogenes several years ago, was adamant about the threat the new laws make against human rights and freedom.

"George Bush signed a bill into law that, in short, legalizes torture. It's just a morally horrific thing to say this is what we as a people can abide by."

The argument that it happens elsewhere and terrorists use torture against Americans holds no credence with Swan.

We aren't terrorists, she said.

"We uphold ourselves as a beacon, as a nation that abides by a golden rule of 'compassionate conservatism'; it's what Bush ran on in 2000. It was very appealing rhetoric back then."

Swan, and others at the protest, believe the new law is hypocrisy.

"It doesn't solve the terrorist problem," said Monique Weston. "It's only going to make it worse."

Some said the new law poses added threats to military personnel in war zones.

Protestors also claimed the Military Commissions Act grants new, unilateral powers to the president.

"It allows him to decide what are acceptable methods of interrogation," Swan said.

"And, in the interests of this administration, which has nothing else to sell the American people, it sells a steady diet of fear. You can control a population by keeping them fearful."

"Top military brass testified that people under torture will say anything. It doesn't work. So, why then, did lawmakers approve this? Why did John McHugh sign his name to this?"

With that, Ted Cornell emphasized the last few sentences in the protest statement:

"Nothing less is at stake in the torture abuse crisis than the soul of our nation. What does it signify if torture is condemned in word but allowed in deed?"

About a dozen people had gathered in the first half-hour of protest; some brought red, white and blue signs that said "Bush Surrenders Our Freedom" and "Stand Up America, Before It's Too Late."

Another protester wore an Uncle Sam top hat festooned with a message: "Vote."