Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Move Over Constitution

After six years of George W. Bush, Americans have become accustomed to war. There is the war in Iraq, the war in Afghanistan, the “War on Terror”, and the ongoing war on the US Constitution. The next attack on the Constitution is currently being launched via the Military Commissions Act of 2006.

Most Americans looked the other way when the Patriot Act hit. It was 45 days after the attacks of 9-11 and we were willing to give up some of our rights, yes, even those rights guaranteed to us by the founding fathers of the United States. The government convinced us that we were in constant danger so we remained in constant fear.

Most of us looked the other way when the government wanted to read our private medical records. Many of us didn't care that the government was checking our library records. After all, it could help catch some book-enthused terrorist. Some of us didn't even mind that the government could search our homes without notification, justification, or a warrant. At least we were safer, right?

They insisted we were safer but apparently not safe enough. We weren't even safe enough to be told about the National Security Agency's secret unconstitutional warrantless wiretapping which invades our privacy and takes away our right to due process. We didn't need privacy because we were somehow convinced that spying without a warrant helps get the terrorists. The government could have even requested a warrant after spying but that somehow hurt their effectiveness.

Those were just a few minor intrusions on the Constitution, but it's not a big deal, right? We don't really believe that the founding fathers wanted us to have all of the rights guaranteed to us by the Constitution, especially not after being attacked by terrorists.

Last week President Bush signed what he called “the most important piece of legislation in the war on terror,” officially known as the Military Commissions Act of 2006. Bush said that the Act would allow captured enemy combatants a fair trial.

The Act has clear regulations defining who can be classified as an enemy combatant. The requirements are as follows: Anyone whom the President designates as an enemy combatant is an enemy combatant. I'm glad they cleared that up.

This means that anyone, US citizen or not, can be an enemy combatant. If the government decides to accuse your mother, father, sister, brother, or friend of being an enemy combatant, they have no right to be released from detainment nor do they have to be charged with a crime. They aren't even allowed their constitutional right to ask why they are being imprisoned.

The mere fact that the President says someone is an enemy combatant is a good enough reason to hold them indefinitely without their most basic rights. The man who can not pronounce the word “nuclear” can pronounce you an enemy combatant. At least this makes us safer, right?

The Act does anything but give a fair trial to anyone. As a matter of fact, the Act takes away many constitutional rights from enemy combatants. The enemy combatants are denied due process of the law and are not entitled to habeas corpus. That means the defendants are not entitled to “fairness” under due process and they can not challenge their detention. They are to be held until a military court decides to try them.

The government can charge the enemy combatant with hearsay evidence, illegally obtained evidence, and evidence which was classified and not even known to the defense. It sounds unfair, but the defendant is still judged by a jury of their US Military peers. The US Military officers, some of whom are returning from active duty in Iraq, will somehow overcome the bias they gained while being shot at by actual enemy combatants and judge the defendant based on the “evidence.” If two-thirds of these military personnel decide the defendant is guilty, he or she is guilty. Sounds fair to me.

Why should the bad guys get a fair trial? We hold them with questionable justification, convict them on hearsay, and convict them by majority. That is good enough for someone classified as an enemy combatant. They are the enemy combatants, aren't they?

One of the lessons taught in journalism school is never to compare anything to the Nazis. The Nazis were the worst people ever to rule, so no one could ever be that bad again. Fair enough. Let's compare the Bush Administration to the Nazis before World War Two and before the Nazis started trying to wipe other races off the planet.

In the 1930's Nazi leadership blamed a congressional house fire on terrorists and then they frightened the legislature into passing the Military Commissions...I mean the Enabling Act. The Enabling Act gave extreme powers to Hitler and gave less power to the other branches of the government. The main power given to Hitler was the ability to hold prisoners indefinitely without charge. Even if you agree with the need for such authority, in whose hands should this much power be trusted to?

American freedoms are being chipped away at by a power-hungry government. They tell us that we are safer and they tell us that this Act is fair. I don't feel safer knowing that I can be held forever without the right to defend myself fairly just because the President says I am an enemy combatant.

Chancellor Bush told Americans that the terrorists hate us because they hate our freedoms. Maybe if he takes all of our freedoms away all of the terrorists will surrender. Maybe they will even love us.


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