Coming Together on Torture

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Sen. John McCain, Sen. Lindsey Graham and Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman John Warner hold a news conference at the U.S. Capitol September 21, 2006.

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But the new legislative agreement — which could be presented for a signature in the Oval Office as soon as House and Senate versions of the bill are reconciled, probably by next week — would provide new language that, in effect, voids those pending cases.

Earlier this week, the American Bar Association wrote to members of Congress protesting provisions of the House proposal, notably Section 5, which "strips judicial review of existing habeas corpus claims for detainees in U.S. custody."

If it became law, such a provision would set trial rules for notorious alleged terrorists like presumed 9/11 mastermind Khaled Sheik Mohammad, as hundreds of prisoners who have never been criminally charged with anything are denied a hearing to determine on what basis they are being held.

"Eliminating habeas will effectively sanction precisely the coercive interrogations that Graham, Warner and McCain have tried to oppose by allowing people to be detained indefinitely based on evidence elicited by torture," argues Jonathan Hafetz of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, who represents Guantanmo prisoners. He points, for example, to Mohammad al-Qahtani, the so-called 20th hijacker, who was repeatedly abused during his interrogation at Guantanamo, and who has since implicated some 30 other fellow prisoners who are still being held without trial.

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