October 3rd, 2006


No film at eleven, or at any other time


I had intended to confine myself to the spiritual response to the current GOP attempt to suspend Constitutional government in the U.S., but since people are still unsure what the new law actually provides, I thought I'd weigh in. The following is a jumble: a post I'd already written on what the bill looked to provide; late-addition specifics about the final law itself, in [brackets]; and, at the end, a few thoughts gleaned from panicky emails and board posts which neatly summarize why some are alarmed. The last are not as precisely sourced as the stuff I post here, so in an abundance of caution I'll add "attributed to" to those sources. Sorry for the mess...I'm still hoping to get some writing done tonight. :/

[I've been waiting for the final text of the new law setting policy on enemy combatants, torture and/or "stress interrogation," suspension of habeas corpus, and trials before military tribunals. The final text is now up, on "Thomas" (the government's online record of Congressional action, on the Library of Congress site). I tried to include a link, but search links there are temporary, so to see it for yourself go to http://thomas.loc.gov/ , and do a search "by bill number," for "S 3930," then read the final one ("as passed" or however they phrase it).

As some alarmed folks have been insisting for days, the final version of the new "enemy combatant" definition has been changed in a way which might remove the restriction to "aliens" (including legal resident aliens in the U.S.). The final definition reads:

Sec. 948a. Definitions`In this chapter:`(1) UNLAWFUL ENEMY COMBATANT- (A) The term `unlawful enemy combatant' means--`(i) a person who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents who is not a lawful enemy combatant (including a person who is part of the Taliban, al Qaeda, or associated forces); or`(ii) a person who, before, on, or after the date of the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, has been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal or another competent tribunal established under the authority of the President or the Secretary of Defense.

I've italicized the portion which has folks worried the most. Taken in isolation, it would seem to define an "unlawful enemy combatant" as "anybody we decree to be one."

Anyway, here's the post I composed while waiting for the new definition. Brief additions are also in brackets.]

The new law will:

(a) Allow the Secretary of Defense, as well as the President [and, as it turns out, "a Combatant Status Review Tribunal or another competent tribunal established under [the Secretary's or President's] authority"] to designate a person an "enemy combatant." This power will certainly extend to cover any non-American on earth, including legal resident aliens; some are saying it would apply to any American, too (there's allegedly a section which begins "any person who" instead of specifying "aliens"), though I'll wait 'til I have a text to quote. [As we've seen above, that's exactly right: both sections begin "a person who...."]

(b) Once declared an "enemy combatant," the person could be detained forever without any further justification. No court would be allowed to review the detention (this is called "suspension of habeas corpus" [see, in the law, the section on habeas corpus] -- that is, suspension of the right to have a court review one's imprisonment...a right which goes back to Magna Carta, some 800 years ago). I have more specifics in an earlier post (and comments), here:
Here's a snippet from that earlier post:

Article I, U.S. Constitution. Section 9 - Limits on Congress [...] "The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it."

The U.S. Supreme Court just got through deciding that the "war on terror" is neither a rebellion, nor an invasion, nor in any way justifies suspension of habeas corpus, period. Today's action by the GOP Senate is flatly unconstitutional: it is a direct assault on the American system itself.

Anyway, while we wait for clarification of just who can be labeled an enemy of the state and thrown in prison forever without trial -- everyone on earth, or only all non-American citizens -- here are some comments from others.

1. Attributed to noted rightwinger -- and Bush, and Iraq War, fan -- Andrew Sullivan: "Put all that together and you really do have the danger of taking emergency measures for wartime and transforming a peace-time constitution into an essentially martial system, where every citizen or non-citizen can be apprehended at will and detained without charge. I repeat: this is a huge deal. It really should be a huge deal for conservatives who care about restraining government power. Its vulnerability to abuse is enormous; sanctioned torture, history tells us, never remains hermetically sealed. It always spreads. It eats away at decency and law and civility. If the president sincerely believes that torture is our most potent weapon in this war, and that habeas corpus is a quaint relic from the past, then we are in far greater peril than even the most dire pessimists believe."

2. Attributed to St. Winston Churchill: “The power of the executive to cast a man into prison without formulating any charge known to the law, and particularly to deny him the judgment of his peers, is in the highest degree odious, and the foundation of all totalitarian government whether Nazi or Communist.”

3. Attributed to one Jonah Blank (otherwise unknown to me), this insight about the "some abuse is okay, and we'll let the President decide" provisions of the same law: "Torture is NOT designed to elicit truthful information. These techniques are designed to elicit CONFESSIONS."

Anyway, pray for an independent judiciary -- which will be examining the new law itself posthaste -- to stand up, once again. I wish I shared some folks' confidence that the court will stand up again, now that Congress has granted the President and his chums sweeping dictatorial powers...and that the administration will obey its order if it does.*

93 93/93 -- AJ

* Don't laugh. I note that Bush's Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales -- highest federal law officer in the nation -- has warned federal judges not to interfere in the President's new powers. Call me paranoid, but I swear I can almost hear the Darth Vader breathing.

What I'm on about (brief); and an Invocation :D


Back, shortly, to the spiritual response to the current crisis, as promised...but first it seems important to answer, as simply as I can, why we should give a crap about the new detainee law. After all, isn't it just a lot of ACLU types concerned about "the rights of terrorists"?

1. Even if that were all it was, that'd still be important -- because as a general thing, YOUR rights always depend directly on the rights granted to the really horrible people. It's like, say, free speech rights. If we don't protect speech we hate, protections won't be there for the speech we like.

But even more importantly, the law isn't written to apply to terrorists (though it easily could have been). It's written broadly enough to apply to just about everybody...and since it looks to last forever, it basically repeals the Constitution.

2. So this isn't just about terrorists -- or even just about innocent people mistakenly detained as terrorists, like that Canadian guy we sent to Syria for torture, who turned out to be completely innocent (though, predictably, the torture made him "confess" to whatever we wanted, including training in Afghanistan with al Qaeda when he'd never even been to Afghanistan in the first place, a big reason torture is a stupid tactic; bless the Canadian government for owning up to this). The law that just passed was written so broadly that, if allowed to stand, it would give an unelected panel of who-knows-who the absolute power to arrest, and hold forever, anybody on earth they cared to, without having to justify their decision to anyone at all, and with the courts forbidden even to look into the matter.

The lengthy details are in my last few posts, particularly this one:


-- so you can check for yourself to see I'm not exaggerating. But I thought a simple words explanation might help.

Next up, time permitting -- maybe why these are the times when the good guys start to win again? We'll see. Come to think, why not paste a St. Leonard Cohen lyric in the meantime?

93 93/93 -- AJ



It's coming through a hole in the air,
from those nights in Tiananmen Square.
It's coming from the feel
that this ain't exactly real,
or it's real, but it ain't exactly there.
From the wars against disorder,
from the sirens night and day,
from the fires of the homeless,
from the ashes of the gay:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It's coming through a crack in the wall;
on a visionary flood of alcohol;
from the staggering account
of the Sermon on the Mount
which I don't pretend to understand at all.
It's coming from the silence
on the dock of the bay,
from the brave, the bold, the battered
heart of Chevrolet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It's coming from the sorrow in the street,
the holy places where the races meet;
from the homicidal bitchin'
that goes down in every kitchen
to determine who will serve and who will eat.
From the wells of disappointment
where the women kneel to pray
for the grace of God in the desert here
and the desert far away:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Sail on, sail on
O mighty Ship of State!
To the Shores of Need
Past the Reefs of Greed
Through the Squalls of Hate
Sail on, sail on, sail on, sail on.

It's coming to America first,
the cradle of the best and of the worst.
It's here they got the range
and the machinery for change
and it's here they got the spiritual thirst.
It's here the family's broken
and it's here the lonely say
that the heart has got to open
in a fundamental way:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

It's coming from the women and the men.
O baby, we'll be making love again.
We'll be going down so deep
the river's going to weep,
and the mountain's going to shout Amen!
It's coming like the tidal flood
beneath the lunar sway,
imperial, mysterious,
in amorous array:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.

Sail on, sail on ...

I'm sentimental, if you know what I mean
I love the country but I can't stand the scene.
And I'm neither left or right
I'm just staying home tonight,
getting lost in that hopeless little screen.
But I'm stubborn as those garbage bags
that Time cannot decay,
I'm junk but I'm still holding up
this little wild bouquet:
Democracy is coming to the U.S.A.