Friday, September 29, 2006

When the President Kicks a Precedent in the Balls

What with the passage by the House and Senate this week of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, I think it is totally fair for me to make the observation that if too many Democrats in Congress can be called “defeatists”, then nowadays it is also the case that too many Republicans in the Congress, and the White House, deserve also to be given a derogatory label – “demagogues”.

If the War on Terrorism is a war of a kind that has never been fought before, then how does the Bush Administration know – how does anyone, of any political party know – what the proper method is for fighting and winning it?

It doesn’t seem at all logical to me to say that eroding Constitutional protections and sacrificing moral principles will make our nation stronger, when it is that Constitution and those principles which over the years have created, protected, and contributed to the political and social environment which enabled America to become as strong, successful, powerful, and exceptional a country as it is.

Do not try to convince me that the only correct way to fight a war of a kind "we’ve never fought before" is to expand the power of the Executive Branch at the expense of the checks and balances which would normally be provided by the Congress, the Supreme Court, or the Constitution itself. Such an argument is asinine, and strikes me as more of an emotional plea meant to scare me a month or two before an election rather than as a rational or well-thought out and forward-thinking plan.

How any of the Republicans who voted for this bill can call themselves conservative from now on is beyond me. Too, I think it would be wrong to call every Democrat who voted against the antiterrorism bill weak when it comes to America’s security.

Ensuring American security is as much about protecting the people, and the Constitution and laws which protect them (whether those people – as a matter of opinion or our accepted sense of justice and morality – deserve to be protected under our laws or not), as it is about having the ability to go after or prosecute terror suspects abroad or at home.

Traditionally, a conservative is one who is cautious and who doesn’t ride roughshod over previously accepted, venerated traditions out of the perceived – but by no means necessary – expediency of the moment. In a purely political sense, a conservative, according to the term’s simplest definition within the American system, is one who is wary of expanding the power or influence of the government over peoples’ lives.

From my reading of the actual bill itself, it is easy to see how a broad interpretation of its provisions would enable a power-hungry individual or presidential administration to label virtually any alleged crime as a terrorist act, opening the door for even the most petty of criminal suspects – even grave robbers, as abhorrent and despicable as they are – to be locked up in a military jail, with the keys thrown away, the suspect’s right to a fair trial by a jury of his or her peers being indefinitely suspended…all in the name of fighting terrorism.

Will the United States of America that our generation and those to come inherits from the 109th Congress and a Bush Administration dedicated to “unitary executive theory” be an America where people not only are inclined to distrust the government, but to fear it as well, more than they ever might have before?

Sure, it might not be the case that Congress ever passes a law which repeals the First Amendment.

But if – if – in the future late night comedians make fewer jokes about politicians, or newspapers refrain from criticizing too strongly a government policy for fear of being prosecuted under, say, Section 950fff of Subchapter VII on Punitive Matters of Chapter 47A of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, will it be too late to meaningfully complain about such self-censorship without submitting to fear of the government or military tribunals ourselves?

By the way, we’re told that the New York Times blowing the lid on some NSA wiretapping program is some sort of unprecedented security-compromising travesty, and yet, during the Civil War, all Confederate General Robert E. Lee needed to do to learn about Union troop movements was pick up a copy of a Northern newspaper smuggled into Virginia!

In order to win a war that no one has ever previously fought or won, must we give in to the governmental demagogic line which says that if a certain bill is not passed, our government won’t have the tools to win it for us? With a lack of anecdotes or reflections by any victors making it that much harder to determine what will win it for us and what won’t, I don’t think this is the right course of action.

In one, five, ten, or twenty years’ time, will we discover that in the pursuit of justice against our enemies, we have forsaken justice for ourselves? Hopefully the Supreme Court will do what it was designed to do, so that the answer to such a question will always be “no”.

“Those who would give up Essential Liberty to purchase a little Temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”
– attributed to Benjamin Franklin


Full text of the just-passed Senate bill

Who voted how?




1 comment:

Chava I. said...

Thank you for bringing up something that has concerned me for quite a long time. A very good point, and one that many Americans should contemplate...