Saturday, September 30, 2006

Detention and Torture in the US

I thought long and hard about this post. But the point of this blog is to give Autumn a snapshot of life in her early years. And this is a good snapshot. It's been 5 years since America was attacked. One can argue about the response (Iraq, the Patriot Act, etc), but this, to me, will one of the defining moments of this era.

By a vote of 253 to 168, Congress has passed a bill that gives the President of the United States the authority to detain any person indefinitely. It’s now perfectly legal to detain someone and said person doesn’t have the right to hear the charges, or challenge the charges. Habeas Corpus has been phased out.

The argument for giving the President these broad powers comes courtesy of the flip-side of the traditional capital punishment debate. In the capital punishment debate, it’s argued that it’s better to set nine people free than execute one innocent man. It’s the checks and balances argument. A state will do everything in its power to ensure that an innocent person isn’t killed.

In current war on terror, the argument is neatly flipped. It’s better to incarcerate ten innocent men to avoid letting one commit an act of terror. Often, at this part of the argument, images of towers coming down are invoked. This is the pre-emptive strike theory of protection. A pre-emptive strike on thought crimes.

his bill is the result of Moderate Republicans scaling it back. So bascially, Democrats had no choice to go a long with it. Admittedly, many didn’t sit quietly while the debate went on. But overall, the party sat quiet. There wasn’t an attempt to get Democrats to say no to this: My congressman, a democrat, voted for it!

So is it legal to simply ignore Habeas Corpus? You might be suprised to learn the term is actually in the US Constitution. Section One, Article Nine of the Constituation of the US states:

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.

"Public safety may require it". The framers left this vauge ending. Meaning, President Bush, the War President, has asked congress to ignore Section one, Article nine because he wants to protect the 'homeland'. Thus, this legislation is constitutional because it's positioned as being about public safety.

To be clear: Nothing about this so far is really a problem. Of course we want the government to do everything to protect us from Enemy Combatents. Of course there's a chance that in times of war, innocent people get caught up in it. One can be fundamentally opposed to war, and still concede that offering Habeas Corpus rights to enemy combatents on the battle field is ridiculous.

Where this legislation gets scary is in the wording of an enemy combatent. Because the President is now allowed to define who is an enemy combatent. And he is able to define them based on the following: People on the battlefield, and people who purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States.

Again, nothing crazy about the first one, really. If soldiers catch a guy who is shooting at them, then it's fairly clear they are an enemy combatent.

But it's the second category that puts the slippery into slippery slope. If someone is thought to be supporting hostilities, and they are detained, they don’t have the right to prove that aren’t supporting hostilities. A person has already been charged with 'aiding terrorists' for selling a satellite dish that included the Hezbollah network.

This is the war on terror. This is Freedom isn’t Free. This is you're for it, or you're for helping the terrorists. And these days, if you're given the 'helping the terrorists' label, the US Government is legally allowed to detain you. Oh, and torture you.

Did you just get a chill?


Anonymous said...

Thanks for writing, Matt. Where is Hillary in this? Her critiques often strike me as sound and intelligent.


Matt. said...

She's opposed to it. she does have to ride the line of being against this without seeming weak on terror.

her site has her opposition.

Anonymous said...

...and, me thinks congress must be sleepy...


Matt. said...

I hope you're right. I hope they are just incompetent, as bad as that is. Because if they aren't, then they willfully voted to eliminate a right that has been around for hundreds of years.