Annual Meeting 2007

ABA Urges Congress to Override Exec Order

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The ABA’s policy-making House of Delegates adopted a policy urging Congress to pass legislation that would in effect reverse the interrogation policy for the CIA that is set forth in an executive order issued by President Bush on July 20.

The ABA policy also says Congress should affirm that interrogations of foreign persons by agents of the United States should be conducted in accordance with the “minimum protections” of common article 3 of the 1949 Geneva Conventions and in a manner consistent with the provisions of interrogation guidelines issued by the U.S. Army in September 2006.

The House adopted the measure on Monday in San Francisco, where the ABA is holding its 2007 Annual Meeting. The policy is a quick reaction by the ABA, which has consistently called for detainees to be treated within the standards of customary U.S. military guidelines and international law, to the latest interrogation policy issued by the Bush administration.

But it’s not a new issue for the ABA. In 2004, the House of Delegates adopted a policy condemning the use of torture, and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment of prisoners being held as terrorism suspects or enemy combatants.

The lead sponsor of Monday’s recommendation was the Association of the Bar of the City of New York. The House adopted the measure in a voice vote.

“The ABA will not countenance” actions by the government that run counter to principles of the rule of law and standards under international law, said Kathryn Grant Madigan of Binghamton, N.Y. She is president of the New York State Bar Association, a co-sponsor of the recommendation.

Interrogation methods have been one of the most controversial aspects of the U.S. government’s policy for fighting terrorism after Sept. 11, 2001. After reports of abuses in the treatment of detainees, Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act in 2005. In 2006, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 126 S. Ct. 2749, that all persons in U.S. custody are covered by the humane treatment provisions of common article 3 of the Geneva Conventions.

In September 2006, the Army issued new guidelines on interrogations that follow humane treatment standards set forth in common article 3, according to the New York City bar’s report supporting its recommendation to the House. But the interrogation guidelines developed by the Bush administration for the CIA have not gone far enough to meet humane treatment standards.

While the president’s July 20 executive order asserts that the CIA’s program fully complies with common article 3, “it significantly limits those circumstances in which acts of abuse are strictly prohibited,” states the bar’s report.

Madigan and other proponents said interrogation standards for the military and the CIA should be consistent and must follow guidelines established under U.S. and international law.

“We need to make clear that the rule of law applies to all branches of our government,” Madigan said.

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