Yesterday, all the Republican Senators except Lincoln Chafee of Rhode Island and Olympia Snowe of Maine lined up with the Bush administration to pass the “Military Commissions Act of 2006”, which defines the category of “unlawful enemy combatant” and establishes a new class of special courts (commissions) where the UEC’s can be tried. The WaPo’s careful military correspondent Jeffrey Smith explains that,
- the bill empowers the executive branch to detain indefinitely anyone it determines to have “purposefully and materially” supported anti-U.S. hostilities. Only foreign nationals among those detainees can be tried by the military commissions, as they are known, and sentenced to decades in jail or put to death.
This was a sad, sad day for the Republic. (Read the NYT’s excellent editorial on the shortcomings of the legislation, which ran yesterday, here.)
It was a sad day, too, for the Republican Party, three of whose leading senators– Warner, McCain, and L. Graham– had until last week stood out against the administration’s highly election-related attempt to ram this legislation through Congress. This week, only Chafee voted against the bill, while Snowe to her credit at least abstained.
Meanwhile, no fewer than welve Democratic senators crossed the floor to vote with the administration bill. (Names here.)
In his blog on Washingtonpost.com, Dan Froomkin wrote today:
- I’m still amazed that Democrats didn’t filibuster the bill in the Senate. Indeed, 12 Democrats actually voted for it.
By contrast, Carl Hulse , writing in the New York Times, is amazed at how many Democrats voted against it: “The Democratic vote in the Senate on Thursday against legislation governing the treatment of terrorism suspects showed that party leaders believe that President Bush’s power to wield national security as a political issue is seriously diminished. . . .
“It was a stark change from four years ago, when Mr. Bush cornered Democrats into another defining pre-election vote on security issues — that one to give the president the authority to launch an attack against Iraq. At the time, many Democrats felt they had little choice politically but to side with Mr. Bush, and a majority of Senate Democrats backed him.”
I guess this is a glass-half-empty vs. glass-half-full type of situation. On balance I guess I’m with Hulse. I think that, though it’s a pity that so many Dems in both houses ended up voting for the bill, at least it is good that (however slowly) some of the party’s pols are finding out that perhaps it’s okay to stand up to the Prez on issues vital to our self-worth and our national security…