Non-Internet Related Political Post: Detainee Bill

Don’t read on if you’re bothered by criticism of the Bush administration.

As many people who know me have heard before, I was an attorney for almost nine years. I did litigation (mostly civil). But in law school I was quite passionate about US Constitutional law. I don’t really follow the nuances and case law anymore but I have to say that the recent passage of the detainee treatment bill is a very bad thing for US democracy on many levels.

Bush has tried to consolidate power for the executive branch amounting to unprecedented, even dictatorial levels of discretion using intimidation, fear and propaganda. Even the most educated and informed Americans only dimly understand the implications of this. And people are quite complacent in believing that our system will ultimately protect us against those trying to undermine it.

If you think my statements are alarmist or outrageous hyperbole consider the power that the new — and probably/hopefully unconstitutional — bill allows. The NY Times puts it very succinctly:

Rather than reining in the formidable presidential powers Mr. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney have asserted since Sept. 11, 2001, the law gives some of those powers a solid statutory foundation. In effect it allows the president to identify enemies, imprison them indefinitely and interrogate them — albeit with a ban on the harshest treatment — beyond the reach of the full court reviews traditionally afforded criminal defendants and ordinary prisoners.

(My emphasis.)

It effectively allows Bush to simply label an individual (citizen or non-citizen) an “enemy combatant” and incarcerate that person, potentially indefinitely. It strips non-citizens of any rights of habeas corpus. And while it affords US citizens some additional protections, to quote a Yale law professor in the Times article, it effectively “allows the administration to declare even an American citizen an unlawful combatant subject to indefinite detention.” (My emphasis.)

That’s shocking and frightening because “enemy combatants” are defined as anyone engaged in hostilities or who has “purposefully and materially supported” those hostilities. Here’s how the language of the bill reads:

“The term ‘unlawful enemy combatant’ means an individual determined by or under the authority of the President or the Secretary of Defense:

  • (A) to be part of or affiliated with a force or organization—including but not limited to al Qaeda, the Taliban, any international terrorist organization, or associated forces—engaged in hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents in violation of the law of war;
  • “(B) to have committed a hostile act in aid of such a force or organization so engaged; or
  • “(C) to have supported hostilities in aid of such a force or organization so engaged.

The word “supported” in the last clause gives way too much power to the executive. Who might be deemed to have “supported” the enemy — anyone who has demonstrated against US policy or provided money to a charity under suspicion? If that seems outrageous, consider that people can simply be labeled without any review process, removed from society, held indefinitely without charge or taken away to secret prisons and be tortured (yes, the US engages in torture).

But beyond these drastic scenarios the administration “benefits” from the simple fear of persecution or these sweeping powers in its ongoing effort to intimidate opposition and criticism. That’s part of the agenda here — to silence critics.

Rest assured that rights groups will challenge the law (which Bush will sign next week) as a violation of the US Constitution and hopefully the entire law or the most dangerous provisions of it will be struck down.

Beyond these very dangerous implications the detainee legislation also challenges the fundamental Constitutional separation of powers because it’s an attempt to strip courts of their authority and transfer that to the executive. Bush & Co. have been trying to weaken Congressional and judicial oversight of their activities (not just in the conduct of war and detentions) since they came into office.

People, representatives, journalists and organizations that have questioned or criticized the Bush administration and its practices regarding prisoner treatment, torture or even just the general conduct of the Iraq war have frequently been told that they are “giving aid and comfort” to the enemy. This is one of the legal definitions of treason under Article III of the US Constitution. And the language has been used in a very self-conscious way by the administration to intimidate would-be critics.

I could go on and on . . .

So as we debate the market share of local search or how much money traditional media might lose to the Internet or which social networks will gain traction it’s important to consider that there are much more significant things happening in the world that merit attention and action.

Dictatorship is defined as “a government in which a single leader or party exercises absolute control over all citizens and every aspect of their lives.”

The US isn’t a dictatorship. But with the passage of this new “enemy combatants” legislation we’ve certainly moved a step closer.


Related: Former Bush admirer Bob Woodward’s new book critical of Bush’s intransigence and incompetence.


4 Responses to “Non-Internet Related Political Post: Detainee Bill”

  1. AhmedF Says:

    Kudos for stating your feelings when most people choose to be quiet in lieu of hurting people’s feelings.

    The unfortunately reality is that most people simply believe what they are told. The ever-dangerous boogeyman that is terrorism is an easy vehicle, and who wants to be outcast as an ‘unpatriot’?

    I can understand conservatism as a movement (fiscal responsibility, small government, strong individual rights), but the current republicans in power are the exact opposite. The detoriation of rights and its passive acceptance is both stunning and disheartening.

  2. Mike Says:

    Greg, let me start by saying that I am no fan of Bush’s domestic policies AT ALL!

    However, we are in a whole new world where we fight by the rules, but our enemy doesn’t. We are fighting an ideology fueled by religious zealotry. In WWII we defeated a regular army fighting for a ideology. But when you throw religion into the mix (especially a religion that embraces death for the cause) it radically alters the normal method of executing a war. Our own civilians can be part of this war, as has been demonstrated several times. Your correctly point out that the laws that protect the rights of our citizens are weakened. But how else can we execute this war against an ideology backed by religious zealotry? At least with WWII we knew who we were fighting, we could defeat them. How do we fight this new enemy? At what point are they defeated? It is easy to say that we cannot stand by and watch laws pass that “potentially” alter our freedom, but what happens if a nuke goes off in the US? With a million dead, and a city like New York radioactive, I assure you the backlash will be far more extreme. When a nuke goes off here, certain cities in the Middle East will be glowing for a century, and that will lead to all out war. Isn’t an ounce of prevention worth a pound of cure? If we allow this cancer to fester, it will get MUCH worse.

    You talk about the agenda being to silence critics. Will brown shirts breakdown your door for writing this? In other countries they would. The US allows unparalleled critique of policy and the administration. Can you provide examples of how the patriot Act has been used to silence critics?

    You talk about moving toward being a dictatorship. This is over the top. Bush will leave when his term is up (care to make a bet on this?). Yes he is centralizing power in the office of the president, but this has been done in response to every war, and this new war is one that demands more secrecy and stealth to ferret out those here who would do us harm…don’t forget 9/11. Remember, none of the combatants wear uniforms (as per the Geneva convention).

    Regarding giving aid and comfort to the enemy through critique, this is a fact, whether you like it or not. I’m not saying we should silence such criticism, but it is giving aid and comfort to the enemy, North Vietnamese have since confirmed that they had lost on the battlefield but all they had to do was hold out while the anti-war effort in the US forced us to lose the war. Just look at the comments coming from Al Qaeda, they mimic anti-war critics here in the US almost word for word. You may not like it, but this debate does give the enemy aid and comfort and helps their propaganda war. Our press makes a big deal about Abu Ghraib (which was wrong) and the enemy uses this to justify beheadings. Simply put, the facts in support of the public criticism giving aid and comfort to the enemy are overwhelming.

    While I agree with your principles, it is the practice where we disagree. I believe that this stems from a basic disagreement on the scope and severity of the war. The enemy doesn’t follow any rules. There is no way to defeat the enemy, because they lack a central authority or even uniforms. And I believe that the incendiary combination of ideology and religious zealotry will cause this war to escalate in a way no other war ever has. We cannot even admit defeat and go home like we could with Vietnam, only total defeat is acceptable to them. The new face of war necessitates new rules, and the sooner the better. I’m sorry to paint a bleak picture, but I truly believe it is coming.

  3. Guy Spencer Says:

    This ‘patriot act’ is an oxy moron. It is the most unpatriotic thing I have ever heard of, and is completely against the constitution. More power to the politicians….and dumb ones at that.

  4. Guy Spencer Says:

    Also….how on earth did America get involved in Iraq in the first place….weapons of mass destruction. Yeah right!

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