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.