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Travel Advisory for Visitors to the United States

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Message Stephanie Westbrook
As U.S. citizens, October 17 will be remembered as a dark day in our nation's history, the day George W. Bush signed the Military Commissions Act of 2006. The new law, authorized by Congress (on yet another dark day), gives the president unprecedented powers to imprison anyone he considers an "unlawful enemy combatant" and to try those so labeled via military commissions.

The signing of this bill into law raises the question: does the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs plan to issue a travel advisory for its citizens traveling to the United States? If so, such an advisory should explain that it will be the president who decides, according to a vague and ambiguous definition, who should be labeled as an "unlawful enemy combatant." This definition includes not only those who are "engaged in hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents," but also those who "purposefully and materially support" hostilities. The evidence used to make such a determination may remain classified.

The travel advisory should emphasize that non-U.S. citizens labeled as "unlawful enemy combatants" may be arrested and imprisoned indefinitely without charge. In fact, the new law eliminates the right of habeas corpus, the right of detainees to challenge their imprisonment in court.

According to the terms of this law, if and when a prisoner is tried, it will be via a military commission convened by the Secretary of Defense or other military official and composed of a military judge, prosecutor and defense attorneys. The detainee will not benefit from legal protections considered essential by international standards. Evidence may be kept secret from the detainee and the military commissions may allow evidence obtained through methods most would consider torture. The approved "interrogation techniques" will be decided by the president and will not be made public. In addition, the right to appeal has been all but eliminated and any appeal based on the Geneva Conventions will be denied.

And finally, the advisory should remind travelers that in January of 2006, Kellogg, Brown & Root, a Halliburton subsidiary, won a $385 million contract to build detention centers in undisclosed locations within the United States to be used, as stated in a company press release, for the "rapid development of new programs."
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Stephanie Westbrook is a U.S. citizen who has been living in Rome, Italy since 1991. She is active in the peace and social justice movements in Italy.
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