Representative Mike Capuano (D-MA), contender for the Senate seat left open by the passing of the late Senator Edward Kennedy, this week strengthened his opposition to the troop escalation in Afghanistan by co-sponsoring Rep. Barbara Lee's HR 3699, which commits members to voting against funding for higher troop levels.
HR 3699 reads simply:
To prohibit any increase in the number of members of the United States Armed Forces serving in Afghanistan...
No funds appropriated or otherwise made available under any provision of law may be obligated or expended to increase the number of members of the United States Armed Forces serving in Afghanistan so that the number of members serving in Afghanistan exceeds the number so serving on the date of the enactment of this Act.
Capuano joins 24 other members of the progressive caucus in taking a stand against funding a troop escalation, which next goes to the House Appropriations Committee, chaired by Rep. David Obey.
This follows his recent television ad "Stand" in which Capuano criticized the erosion of civil liberties and calls out Dick Cheney by name:
"George Bush and Dick Cheney used fear to justify torture and abuses of our most basic civil liberties...Our leaders must have the courage to fight terrorism without surrendering the values and civil liberties that make us all proud to be Americans...there will always be people like Dick Cheney ...and the need to stand up to them."
Capuano has said that if it appears that the orders to subject al-Qaida terror suspects to waterboarding could be traced to Cheney's office, Cheney should be prosecuted. He said those carrying out orders shouldn't be scapegoated for obeying executive instructions.
Capuano highlights his stands for civil liberties as a key reason he should be elected. In the aftermath of the 9/11 attack, Capuano was one of 64 Democrats and 3 Republicans who voted against the USA PATRIOT Act. Capuano also voted against subsequent reauthorizations of the USA PATRIOT Act in 2005 and in 2006. A 300-plus page document which Congressman Jim McDermott once asserted was "on a shelf somewhere" with "things they would like to do" even before 9/11, the Patriot Act's key provisions, according to a former staffer for Rep. Bernie Sanders, "greatly expanded the government's authority to seize "business records" without any showing that the person whose records are being seized is involved in any kind of wrongdoing."
Records covered include personal email, all medical, financial, and reading habits as shown by library records and bookstore purchases. Many members of Congress complained that they were not allowed to read Patriot Act legislation before being required to vote on it. Rep. Ron Paul told reporters:
"It's my understanding the bill wasn't printed before the vote — at least I couldn't get it. They played all kinds of games, kept the House in session all night, and it was a very complicated bill. Maybe a handful of staffers actually read it, but the bill definitely was not available to members before the vote."
Prior to passage, two senators opposed to the Patriot Act and in key positions to block it, Majority Leader Tom Daschle and Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, were mailed anthrax letters. Both subsequently dropped opposition to the Act.
Capuano also voted against the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which still stands as law, and in the words of Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman:
"...authorizes the president to seize American citizens as enemy combatants, even if they have never left the United States. And once thrown into military prison, they cannot expect a trial by their peers or any other of the normal protections of the Bill of Rights."
Television Ad "Never"
In a television ad "Never" released last month, Capuano declared that without "answers," on "a mission" and "an exit strategy," "I will never, ever vote to send more American troops to Afghanistan." Capuano told supporters, prior to his co-sponsorship of HR 3699, that he was waiting for the president's detailed plans on Afghanistan before making a decision on HR 3699. Capuano's office indicated that his co-sponsorship of HR 3699 was contingent upon hearing satisfactory answers to his questions. The president, in his December 1st speech, announced that American troops would "begin" to withdraw in 2011, subject to "conditions on the ground." Anti-war activists see this wording as the equivalent of an open-ended commitment. A Capuano victory raises the specter for peace activists of a reliable ally in the Senate in the event of a filibuster against funding for a troop escalation, one already seasoned on Capitol Hill
The Democratic primary field also includes state prosecutor Martha Coakley, who moved into the national spotlight in the Louise Woodward murder trial, Alan Khazei, a community activist named by US News and World Report as one of "America's 25 Best Leaders," and businessman Steve Pagliuca.
Coakley's previous remarks on the Patriot Act have become a campaign issue, with attention turning to remarks made to the Lowell Sun in 2005 in an article entitled "Patriot Act criticized unfairly, law-enforcement officials say." Coakley appeared to suggest that the threat to civil liberties was being overstated, and that those in opposition to the act were ill-informed:
"Your insurance company knows more about you than the federal government does...When people don’t understand how things work, they’re willing to say ‘can’t do it, won’t do it,’ and they tie the government’s hands."
The hotly-contested Massachusetts Democratic Primary election is this Tuesday, Dec. 6.