Tuesday, October 03, 2006

It's The Constitution Stupid

I remember those great stories they used to teach us in grade school about the history of our country. And I'm talking about the 4th, 5th, and 6th grade versions of our history. We gave the friendly indians a trunk full of trinkets and they gladly handed over the island of Manhattan. And later the indians just kept "walking" west to give us more room to build cities and farms. And how the British instilled in us an endemic hatred of taxes and how we had to kick them out because they loved taxes so much. And then we wrote the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. I guess you could say we were given a romanticized version of our history. The problem is, some people never learn any more than that. They walk around thinking this is the greatest nation on earth, because that's what they were taught when they were little kids. I wonder what the next generation of 4th and 5th graders will be taught about what happened in Congress last thursday.

In The Federalist No. 47, James Madison wrote, "No political truth is certainly of greater intrinsic value, or is stamped with the authority of more enlightened patrons of liberty, than that...the accumulation of all powers, legislative, executive, and judiciary, in the same hands... may justly be pronounced the very definition of tyranny."

This is exactly what the detainee law does. It codifies what Bush has been doing all along. Namely holding people indefinitely without trial or even charging them with a specific crime. Even the Bush friendly Supreme Court rebuked the administration twice (the Hamdi and Hamdan decisions) about the way the detainees are well, detained. This is what the writ of habeas corpus is all about.

Those of you who don't remember past the 5th grade may be surprised to hear that the writ of habeas corpus is a right written into the constitution. Not in the Bill of Rights which is seperate from the Constitution. But in the Constitution itself. The writ of habeas corpus simply means that should you ever find yourself in jail (or "detained") then you have the right to go to court and find out what the charges are against you, face your accuser, and hear the evidence against you so that you may mount a defense. It's a concept so ingrained in our culture that most people don't even know it's a right. The Constitution only list two circumstances where the writ can be suspended (suspended, not done away with) and that's during a rebellion or invasion. That's it. And the writ is contained in Article I which sets up the legislative branch so the Congress is the only one with the power to suspend it. Not the President.

So that's what the detainee law does. It allows the president to do what he was doing anyway. But the law doesn't stop there. It states that the writ can only be suspended for "enemy combatants" or anyone giving "support" to terrorist. The law is so broadly written that some argue that even the lawyers representing detainess could be designated "enemy combatant" because their leagal advice might be interpreted as "aiding" terrorist. But the main problem here is it doesn't define what an enemy combatant is. It leaves that up to the President.

Of course the proponents say the President is being very careful about who he decides to designate "enemy combatant." Right. Of the 700 or so people locked up at Guantanamo, only 10 have been charged with anything. 10.

As the law is written now the President could read this blog, see that I've criticized him and the war in Iraq, (which according to him is the central front on the global war on terror) determine that my criticism is giving aid to the enemy (which has been asserted by right wing nuts before) and send the FBI to come and get me and whisk me down to Gitmo. I wouldn't be able to contact my family. I wouldn't be able to talk to a lawyer. I wouldn't be able to even hear the charges against me. And I would be tortured.

This is the country George W Bush has created now. We torture people. And the new detainee law allows Bush to determine what torture is nevermind the Geneva Convention. And it's not just George Bush. It's not just the Republicans. There were plenty of Democrats who voted for this law as well and shame on all of them. No one wants to be seen as soft on terror and after all, it is an election year. People should have the courage to speak up and defend the constition. Even if you're not in the legislature. Even if you're not into politics. Even if you like George W. Bush. You should stand up and defend the constitution because it is the ideals embodied within that make this country great. Not bricks and mortar. Not military might.

It is the constitution. It is the thing that presidents, all presidents swear to preserve, protect and defend. It is who we are.