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US Congress passes Military Commissions Act

The US House of Representatives and Senate passed separate but equivalent versions of the Military Commissions Act on 27 and 28 September. The Act was pushed through Congress with lightning speed. It empowers Bush to declare not just aliens, but also U.S. citizens, "unlawful enemy combatants." And it strips 'unlawful combatants' of the rights of habeas corpus and the right to trial by jury.

The Act establishes a parallel legal system - Military Commissions - to try "alien unlawful enemy combatants."

It empowers the President or the Secretary of Defense to establish the type and degree of "punishment which a military commission under this chapter may direct for an offense."

The rules of evidence allow hearsay, statements made under "alleged coercion," and should follow the rules of evidence for general courts-martial "so far as the Secretary considers practicable or consistent with military or intelligence activities."

The habeas-stripping provision in the new bill is probably unconstitutional and is sure to be challenged in the Supreme Court.

According to the Act:
"The term 'unlawful enemy combatant' means - (i) a person who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents who is not a lawful enemy combatant (including a person who is part of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, or associated forces); or (ii) a person who, before, on, or after the date of the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, has been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal or another competent tribunal established under the authority of the president or the secretary of defense."

The Act defines torture as:
"an act specifically intended to inflict severe physical or mental pain or suffering (other than pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanctions) upon another person within his custody or physical control for the purpose of obtaining information or a confession, punishment, intimidation, coercion, or any reason based on discrimination of any kind."