DETROIT -- The greatest shame is the scarcity of shame. The president of the United States and his toadies in Congress pulled off an unprecedented frontal assault on our most fundamental "unalienable rights," and most Americans snored through the event.
With a stroke of a pen, George W. Bush thumbed his nose at 230 years of civic tradition and the core distinctions the founders of our republic made in separating the American concept of liberty from British monarchal oppression.
Bush is shamelessly using fear to re-establish pre-Revolutionary practices and give himself the very powers that were so eloquently challenged and defied in the Declaration of Independence and defeated through the blood of our national founders and the indispensable help of the French army.
Bush sought for himself, and his handmaidens in Congress have granted him, the same autocratic authority King George III futilely tried to cling to until the Colonial rebels got tired of being "protected" through systematic oppression.
The right of habeas corpus -- the protection against illegal imprisonment and the basic right of an accused person living on American soil to know why the government is holding him -- has been nullified. The law will certainly face constitutional challenge, but with a Bush-stacked Supreme Court prone to support executive authority over individual liberty, the codification of this monstrously bad idea may endure until an age of reason returns, if that's possible.
While the headlines like "President Signs New Rules to Prosecute Terror Suspects" in The New York Times, or "Detainees to Get Military Trials" in the Detroit Free Press give the impression the law is something only an alien terrorist suspect should be concerned about, it applies to all of us.
The Military Commissions Act of 2006 reaches far beyond its narrow and innocuous title. Simply stated, the president of the United States can now, on his authority alone, declare that you, or any American citizen suspected of helping or aiding "illegal enemy combatants," can be whisked away and imprisoned indefinitely without even being charged with a crime.
No public statements, no affidavits and no information brought before a judge or grand jury. Our long-tested process of justice gets tossed for a "star chamber" system, where the president alone can point to someone as "dangerous" or "disloyal" and can order that person to be locked up.
You have no recourse to go before civilian court and demand to know why you are being held. You can rot in prison for the rest of your life based exclusively on the president's discretion. You can be separated from your family and held in a secret prison. Your loved ones may never be told what happened to you.
While imprisoned, you may be subjected to "coercive interrogation" -- a euphemism for torture -- and the statements you make while being water-boarded can and will be used against you.
If you ever are charged, you will go before a secret military tribunal, where secret evidence can be used against you. You have no right to see that evidence or to confront your accusers. You have no right to legal representation.
We have returned to the House of Hanover rules. The king does as he pleases. The people must accept his benevolent protection and shut up about quaint notions of civil liberties and human decency. The decider decides what is fair and just. We must accept what he decides without question.
"It is a rare occasion when a president can sign a bill he knows will save American lives," Bush gushed as he signed the vile legislation. That's a wild stretch.
The certitude is that this new law tramples on American liberties and is an insult to all those who suffered and died in defense of those liberties. The president now alone has the authority to determine the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions and other treaty obligations covering torture and imprisonment.
Congress and the courts should play vital roles in these areas. Abrogating all that responsibility to the president -- as the Republican Congress did so willingly -- is as dangerous as it is despicable.
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., the ranking minority member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, told The New York Times, "Congress has no justification for suspending the writ of habeas corpus, a core value in American law, in order to avoid judicial review that prevents government abuse."
Bush was forced to seek legislative cover when the Supreme Court, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, ruled that Congress must authorize military commissions, and suspects must be treated in accordance with the Geneva Conventions Common Article 3, which prohibits inhumane, cruel treatment and "outrages upon personal dignity."
The legislative remedy the cowards in Congress rammed through was the quick and the dirty: Scrap habeas corpus and give the president blessings to ignore the Geneva Conventions. Why stop there? If they had real guts, they would have authorized and defined specific acts of torture and approved of the CIA's secret gulags.
But it really doesn't matter, since Bush's signing statement declares he can do anything he wants, and Congress, the courts and the Constitution be damned. Joe Stalin would have admired George W. Bush.
The fate of the military lawyer who argued the Hamdan v. Rumsfeld case before the Supreme Court illustrates just how vicious and vindictive the Busheviks are. Those who stand for truth, justice and the American way will pay a high price.
Lt. Cmdr. Charles Swift is a Navy lawyer who was assigned to represent Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Guantanamo detainee. Hamdan is a Yemeni tribesman who once worked as Osama bin Laden's driver in Afghanistan. Hamdan was probably turned over to U.S. forces by Afghan warlords who were being paid substantial bounties rounding up suspected al-Qaeda associates. Many of these warlords would have been more than happy to turn in their own brothers for cash. Some probably did. Hamdan ended up in Gitmo, and kept insisting he had done nothing wrong and simply wanted to know why he was being held and on what charges. Imagine that.
Lt. Cmdr. Swift is a 1984 graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy and the Seattle University Law School. He once served on the U.S.S. Niagara Falls and received numerous citations for his exemplary performance. After sea service, he was assigned as a judge advocate general officer. The 44-year-old Swift always received high ratings in his annual reviews and fitness reports. He won steady promotions.
That was until he had the courage to say in open court that George W. Bush, president of the United States, was acting as if he were King George III, the last despotic British monarch to rule over the American Colonies.
Swift convinced the Supreme Court in a 5-3 vote that Hamdan was entitled to a writ of habeas corpus and the government had an obligation to provide him with that opportunity.
"At stake was the rule of law," Swift told MSNBC's Chris Matthews after the high court decided the case and forced Bush to seek help from Congress. "The president had staked out a position that was contrary to our domestic statutes in the Uniform Code of Military Justice. What the court did was say that even the president has to follow the law, not an ad hoc system."
The "National Law Journal" selected Swift as one of the 100 most influential lawyers in the country. His commander, Marine Col. Dwight Sullivan, told the Seattle Post-Intelligencer Swift was "doing a fantastic job." Sullivan praised Swift's work in the Hamdan case: "He's been absolutely fearless in pursuing his client's interests. And he has exhibited an extraordinary level of legal skill. His legal strategy has been brilliant."
Sullivan is another one of those quaint types who still cherishes the legal principles upon which this nation was built. He likes Swift's commitment. "We all take the oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, and he has certainly done that," Sullivan said.
Defend the Constitution and you'll walk the plank in George Bush's Navy. Charles Swift will soon become a civilian. He's been passed over for promotion, and under the Navy's "up or out" system, that means Swift is getting drummed out of the service.
He's too dignified to say he's being punished for political reasons, which he clearly is. The Navy is losing a fine officer and an outstanding lawyer. His career blood is on the hands of the vile Busheviks. Where is the public outrage? Why do the Democrats hardly whimper when these things happen?
Keith Olbermann has become the most outraged, eloquent and courageous voice of reason on our political landscape. The anchor of MSNBC's "Countdown" has spoken with more guts and sense this political season than the entire Democratic leadership in Congress combined. He's not afraid to say Bush has lied and done so repeatedly. In a brilliant commentary, following the signing of the Military Commissions Act, Olbermann lacerated Bush's lie that the law will make our nation safer.
He cited earlier presidents -- John Adams, Woodrow Wilson and Franklin Roosevelt -- who assaulted liberty in the name of safety in their administrations. Those excesses are now condemned, Olbermann noted, but "we have a long and painful history of ignoring the prophecy attributed to Benjamin Franklin that 'those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.'"
Olbermann argued, "But even within this history, we have not before codified the poisoning of habeas corpus, that wellspring of protection from which all essential liberties flow."
Looking into the camera like a 21st-century Emile Zola, speaking right to Bush the accused, Olbermann tongue-lashed with righteous indignation: " You, sir, have now befouled that spring. You, sir, have given us chaos and called it order. You, sir, have imposed subjugation and called it freedom. For the most vital, the most urgent, the most inescapable of reasons. And again, Mr. Bush, all of them wrong."
Olbermann declared, "Your words are lies," after reciting a litany of truths about what Bush has really done to our fundamental freedoms. In signing the habeas corpus nullification measure, Bush quoted one of the terrorists who planned the Sept. 11 attacks, saying, "He hoped the attacks would be 'the beginning of the end of America.'"
Olbermann replied to Bush: "That terrorist, sir, could only hope. Not his actions, nor the actions of a ceaseless line of terrorists (real or imagined), could measure up to what you have wrought.
"Habeas corpus? Gone.
"The Geneva Conventions? Optional.
"The moral force we shined outwards to the world as an eternal beacon, and inwards at ourselves as an eternal protection? Snuffed out.
"These things you have done, Mr. Bush, they would be 'the beginning of the end of America.'"
Keith Olbermann speaks the truths every American should hear and heed.
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||October 24 2006|