Posner: Do Not Fear New Terror Laws

Speaker: Terror law not a threat
Steve Koehler
Springfield News-Leader (Missouri)
October 20, 2006

Americans should not be fearful of a law that establishes new rules for interrogating and trying suspected terrorists, according to an expert in international law.

Eric Posner, law professor from the University of Chicago, said Thursday at Drury University that the law President Bush signed Tuesday "shouldn't affect American citizens at all unless they go to Afghanistan and fight on the battlefield."

Posner, who spoke at Drury as part of the university's "Liberty and Security in a Post-9/11 World" convocation series, said foreigners who are in this country should not worry about being picked up and questioned, either.

"The law allows the government to detain people who are enemy soldiers. It's unlikely Americans will be put in that situation," he said.

Some have questioned the new law's constitutionality.

The American Civil Liberties Union called the new law unconstitutional, un-American and "one of the worst civil liberties measures ever enacted."

Most of the provisions in the law apply only to noncitizens who have been declared "unlawful enemy combatants."

The Military Commissions Act of 2006 gives the CIA authority to resume aggressive interrogations in secret prisons and denies suspected terrorists the right to challenge their detention in civilian courts.

It also permits the use of evidence obtained through coercion and lets the president draw the line between acceptable interrogation techniques and impermissible torture.

Posner said the conflict in Iraq and the war on terror won't end for a very long time, and some detainees being housed at a military prison in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba could be there for as many as 40 years.

And Posner admitted that the "probability of an innocent person being convicted is higher" when they face a military tribunal.

"We have to tolerate the risk of wrongly convicting someone for our security benefits," he said.

Several Drury students said the treatment of prisoners was on their minds.

"If (terrorists) are going to show videos of beheadings, then those people would be sent to Guantanamo. Those there probably did something wrong," said Tom Ringenberg, a freshman from Springfield.

"I trust the soldiers and what they are doing."

Emily Stein, an international political science major, said she found some of Posner's explanations of the Geneva Conventions that deal with prisoners of war interesting.

"I hadn't heard that POWs had to be given books and musical instruments. That's very different from Guantanamo," she said.

"I don't think terrorists should be treated any differently from others. And no torture should be used."

Posner said the existing laws of war do not apply to terrorists because the laws only apply to conventional wars where countries can discipline those soldiers who fail to comply.

Terrorists are not considered soldiers because the laws of war require soldiers to wear uniforms, follow a chain of command and represent a sovereign nation, he said.

Since they are not soldiers protected by the Geneva Conventions, the new law Bush signed will apply. Those prisoners who face trial will not have the right to challenge their detention in court, and at trial, they may not be allowed to see some of the evidence against them if it is deemed classified information.

There has been much discussion about whether those fighting in Iraq are terrorists, insurgents or civilians who want the U.S. out of their country.

Posner said terrorists kill civilians for political reasons "but that doesn't justify the reason for them killing civilians."

Posner said Bush doesn't want to call those fighting Americans in Iraq soldiers.

"He calls them terrorists but that's just rhetoric," he said.

Copyright 2006 Springfield News-Leader (Springfield, MO)

Faculty: 
Eric Posner