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America vs. The World

The big trouble with dumb bastards is that they are too dumb to believe there is such a thing as being smart. — Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Unconscionable and unconstitutional

I have never been more ashamed of my government than I am today.

I know a lot of non-citizens living in this country. My roommate's parents, for example. The detaineee bill passed today would allow President George Bush to order them seized from their apartment in New York City, tortured, and held indefinitely without the ability to challenge their imprisonment.

Is Bush likely to do this? No. But the system of government establish by our Founding Fathers does not depend on the better natures of our leaders. They had a rather dim view of human nature, in fact, and knew that even the best of men would be tempted to abuse power (and Bush is hardly the best of men). The rule of law and the Bill of Rights exist us to protect us from our government, not faith and hope.

This law guts that. Think I'm exaggerating?
"Buried in the complex Senate compromise on detainee treatment is a real shocker, reaching far beyond the legal struggles about foreign terrorist suspects in the Guantanamo Bay fortress. The compromise legislation, which is racing toward the White House, authorizes the president to seize American citizens as enemy combatants, even if they have never left the United States. And once thrown into military prison, they cannot expect a trial by their peers or any other of the normal protections of the Bill of Rights.

"This dangerous compromise," Professor Ackerman continued, "not only authorizes the president to seize and hold terrorists who have fought against our troops 'during an armed conflict,' it also allows him to seize anybody who has 'purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States.' This grants the president enormous power over citizens and legal residents. They can be designated as enemy combatants if they have contributed money to a Middle Eastern charity, and they can be held indefinitely in a military prison."
I'm too depressed to write much more. (Mandasaurous said "You are emotionally attached to the Constitution like I am emotionally attached to poor kids I've never met.") So I'll let a couple of Senators speak for me.

George Washington is Gordon's favorite president, for good reason. This is taken from the stirring speech delivered by Hillary Clinton (yeah, who'd a thunk it?) on the floor of the Senate today:
During the Revolutionary War, between the signing of the Declaration of Independence, which set our founding ideals to paper, and the writing of our Constitution, which fortified those ideals under the rule of law, our values – our beliefs as Americans — were already being tested.

We were at war and victory was hardly assured, in fact the situation was closer to the opposite. New York City and Long Island had been captured. General George Washington and the continental army retreated across New Jersey to Pennsylvania, suffering tremendous casualties and a body blow to the cause of American Independence.

It was at this time, among these soldiers at this moment of defeat and despair, that Thomas Paine would write, "These are the times that try men's souls." Soon afterward, Washington led his soldiers across the Delaware River and onto victory in the Battle of Trenton. There he captured nearly 1000 foreign mercenaries and he faced a crucial choice.

How would General Washington treat these men? The British had already committed atrocities against Americans, including torture. As David Hackett Fischer describes in his Pulitzer Prize winning book, "Washington's Crossing," thousands of American prisoners of war were "treated with extreme cruelty by British captors." There are accounts of injured soldiers who surrendered being murdered instead of quartered. Countless Americans dying in prison hulks in New York harbor. Starvation and other acts of inhumanity perpetrated against Americans confined to churches in New York City.

The light of our ideals shone dimly in those early dark days, years from an end to the conflict, years before our improbable triumph and the birth of our democracy. General Washington wasn't that far from where the Continental Congress had met and signed the Declaration of Independence. But it's easy to imagine how far that must have seemed. General Washington announced a decision unique in human history, sending the following order for handling prisoners: "Treat them with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of our Copying the brutal example of the British Army in their Treatment of our unfortunate brethren."

Therefore, George Washington, our commander-in-chief before he was our President, laid down the indelible marker of our nation's values even as we were struggling as a nation – and his courageous act reminds us that America was born out of faith in certain basic principles. In fact, it is these principles that made and still make our country exceptional and allow us to serve as an example. We are not bound together as a nation by bloodlines. We are not bound by ancient history; our nation is a new nation. Above all, we are bound by our values.

George Washington understood that how you treat enemy combatants could reverberate around the world. We must convict and punish the guilty in a way that reinforces their guilt before the world and does not undermine our constitutional values.

Here's Harry Reid:
The Framers of our Constitution understood the need for checks and balances, but this bill discards them.

Many of the worst provisions were not in the Committee-reported bill, and were not in the compromise announced last Friday.  They were added over the weekend after backroom meetings with White House lawyers.

We have tried to improve this legislation. Senator Levin proposed to substitute the bipartisan bill that was reported by the Armed Services Committee. That amendment was rejected.

Senators Specter and Leahy offered an amendment to restore the right to judicial review — that amendment was rejected.

Senator Rockefeller offered an amendment to improve congressional oversight of CIA programs — that amendment was rejected.

Senator Kennedy offered an amendment to clarify that inhumane interrogation tactics prohibited by the Army Field manual could not be used on Americans or on others — that amendment was rejected.

And Senator Byrd offered an amendment to sunset military commissions so that Congress would simply be required to reconsider this far-reaching authority after five years of experience. Even that amendment was rejected.

I strongly believe this legislation is unconstitutional.  It will almost certainly be struck down by the Supreme Court.  And when that happens, we'll be back here several years from now debating how to bring terrorists to justice.

The families of the 9/11 victims and the nation have been waiting five years for the perpetrators of these attacks to be brought to justice. They should not have to wait longer.  We should get this right now — and we are not doing so by passing this bill. The National security policies of this administration and Republican Congress may have been tough, but they haven't been smart. The American people are paying a price for their mistakes.

History will judge our actions here today. I am convinced that future generations will view passage of this bill as a grave error. I wish to be recorded as one who voted against taking this step.

1 Comments:

Anonymous tet said...

This pretty much ends any hope in my mind for the continuation of America as anything less than a Fascist state. It's a sad day for me--I remember when we were better than this.

Tom

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Jeff Goldstein is a wanker.