Sunday, October 01, 2006

Am I safe? Pondering hope & despair under the new detainee law

By Pamela K. Taylor

As I watched with incredulity as our government legalized what most of us would consider torture, strip habeas corpus rights from "enemy combatants" who could be American citizens, allow hearsay, coerced testimony, secret evidence (in which a defendant does not know the evidence, or perhaps even the charge, against him), indefinite detentions with no trial, I wavered between disbelief and despair.

I have real fears that the government may go on a spree, rounding up whoever they like, without any of us having the right to challenge that imprisonment.

Am I safe?

Before 9-11, my husband and I had been supporting an orphan through an organization that turned out to be siphoning the funds to terrorist groups in Afghanistan. (So says our government, but after Iraq and the elusive Weapons of Mass Destruction, I don't even know if I should believe that contention.) After we recovered from our fear of donating to Islamic charities, we picked an organization that had supposedly been cleared by Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, but only months later was shut down.

Will the fact that we picked poorly twice be seen as a pattern? Proof of nefarious intentions?

Will my outspoken opposition to many of America's foreign policies be used as an excuse to claim I'm giving comfort to terrorists? Will they pick me up, along with other folks who spoke at peace demonstrations?

I have young children, what would happen to them? Would relatives step up and take care of them, or would the courts appoint guardians from the foster care system? Would I have any say over who they go to?

It is a depressing thought, indeed.

The only lantern of hope I hold out is to consider the history of the 18th Amendment, creating the prohibition against alcohol. The amendment was a mistake, and a few years later, our elected officials realized that and repealed it. With any luck, in a few years (or even better a few months) our elected officials will pass a new law repealing the Military Commisions Act. Or, perhaps, the Supreme Court will strike it down as unconstitutional.

I have great hope that we won't continue down the path of increasing executive branch authority, decreasing checks and balances, and that we won't let fear gut the rights and liberties enshrined in the Constitution.

We have taken wrong turns before -- the shameful treatment of the native population, slavery, the internment of the Japanese, the McCarthy era. Sometimes it took only a few years to realize our mistake, and sometimes it took a lot longer. Hopefuly this one will take less time, rather than more.


Jamie Lynk, Sarasota, FL said...

Like Pamela, I too am afraid. After reading “The Military Commission Act of 2006”, I am even more afraid. Plus, I am angry and I am disgusted with the persons who voted for this legislation.
As an American, I feel I have the right and the obligation to give voice to my opinions. In addition, I believe that passage of this legislation has immensely damaged the USA in the world’s opinion. And, I’m talking about the opinion of our political Allies and the opinion of the non-aligned countries of the world. And, for some to dismiss these concerns as mere liberal angst is facile.
Essentially, this bill lets the USA ignore the Geneva Conventions -- the world standard for the conduct of nations in wartime since 1864. As most nations do not (as of yet) put combat troops on trial -- unless they have committed atrocities -- this bill is directed at “alien (non-US) unlawful” combatants and whose activities are labeled as acts of terrorism. This law is retroactive (“ipso facto“) to November 27, 1997. One question: What is the magic significance of that date?
Who gets to decided what anti-USA activity is terrorism vs. some type of “Freedom Fighter” opposition [e.g.: when the Afghanistan Muhadjadin were fighting the “Evil Empire” (the Soviet Union) they were “freedom fighters”; now they are terrorists….when they have always been intolerant religious extremists.] One shouldn’t be playing politics with the concept of terrorism. The 9/11 attack on the World Trade Center, the Pentagon, and what may have been directed at the White House (Flight 93) were acts of terrorism. The torture, mutilation and killing by gunshot or roadside bomb of hundreds of Iraqi-Shia or Iraqi-Sunni Moslems in this eruption of sectarian violence must be termed acts of terrorism….Just as in Lebanon, where the polarization of politics and religious sectarianism has produced atrocities on both sides. However much this issue begs to be addressed, in this instance, it is not germane to the discussion of our reaction to the passage of this legislation.
Let’s get to the bill itself. While, I’m not a lawyer, even I can see that for those designated as “unlawful combatants” (and it looks like the President ultimately gets to decide who is a lawful or unlawful military combatant), they’ve thrown out the following: Habeas Corpus; right to a speedy trial; prohibition of “compulsory self-incrimination”; rules governing pre-trial investigations; and they have re-defined what constitutes torture and/or cruel and unusual punishment. They are not allowed “severe” torture; but may engage in “serious torture”. Serious torture being defined as “pain or suffering incidental to lawful sanction”; and they can’t “burn or physically abuse” except for cuts, abrasions and bruises. Under Section 948-b, persons on trial are prohibited from using the Geneva Conventions nor any other “foreign or international source of law” (which includes the World Court) as a legal basis or source for interpretation of the law.
In fact, part of the wording states, “…the President has the authority to interpret the meaning and application of the Geneva Conventions.” Now, the last I checked George W Bush, our President, has a bachelors degree from Yale (1968) and a Harvard M.B.A. which he only sought after being rejected by the prestigious University of Texas School of Law (one of the five best in the nation). His only military experience has been during the Vietnam era when he somehow got “jumped” to the head of the wait list for the Texas Air National Guard and where he received a “rare” special commission to 2nd Lieutenant which enabled him to by-pass Officer’s Candidate School (which would’ve required 6-months of active duty with the regular Air Force). We will completely avoid talking about his actual service in the Texas Air National Guard….after all Dan Rather got fired; I might end-up on trial.
Lastly, are my fears and the fears of others real? Are our fears of the possibility of being incarcerated (without Habeas Corpus and without the right to a speedy trial) real? Yes, I think so. And that belief stems from the following statement in this legislation: “Any person who provides material support or resources“….or “any person who is in breach of allegiance or duty to the US” may be subject to trial by this commission.
And, again, it is ultimately the President as Commander-in-Chief who determines which of us is subject to this legislation. Where are the “weights and balances?“ Does the accused have any rights? Doesn’t look like it to me. Looks like the President and/or the Secretary of Defense (or their designee) gets to be judge and jury; especially as under this legislation they get to determine the composition of the commission.
In the past, it seems like American has always tried to expand the concept of protection under the law. In the past, America has seemed inclusive. Now, it looks like we’re becoming exclusive. YES, I AM AFRAID - I’M VERY AFRAID.

Blue Girl, Red State said...

I am much more frightened by my government than I am of the "terrorist threat."

Blue Girl, Red State said...

By the way, great posts, ladies - and Jamie - you go girl!