Friday, September 29, 2006

 When do we get to liberate ourselves? 

This makes me sick:
By passing the Military Commissions Act, the United States Congress has, in effect, given its stamp of approval to human rights violations committed by the USA in the “war on terror”. This legislation leaves the USA squarely on the wrong side of international law, and has turned bad executive policy into bad domestic law. Amnesty International will campaign for repeal of this act and fully expects the constitutionality of this legislation to be challenged in the courts.

In the “war on terror”, the US administration has resorted to secret detention, enforced disappearance, prolonged incommunicado detention, indefinite detention without charge, arbitrary detention, and torture or other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.

Thousands of detainees remain in indefinite military detention in US custody in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantánamo Bay. Congress has failed these detainees and their families. President Bush has defended the CIA’s use of secret detention and in the debates over the Military Commissions Act, members of Congress have done the same. This policy clearly violates international law.

Damn right it does. And remember, when an international treaty is ratified, it automatically becomes US law as well. Maybe Congress should bother reading that annoying Consitution they're constantly braying about.

(Note: When Amnesty International sees fit to send out an urgent press release about newly passed laws that violate basic human rights, you really should take it seriously. They know of what they speak.)

This bill is odious to me on so many levels, it's hard to know where to begin. First is that the Congress has once again abdicated its responsibility for oversight of the Executive Branch, and that it has done so for short-term political reasons. Whatever bluster that the Republicans made several years ago about rights to privacy and the intrusion of government into areas it shouldn't go is now moot, as they have completely surrendered whatever integrity they had left just to allow Bush the ability to define "outrages upon human dignity". John McCain, who gets so much "straight talker" mileage with the traditional media, is perhaps singularly responsible for shifting these goalposts. Of all people he should know better, but I guess his torture happened long enough ago that he's forgotten and is now more concerned about shoring up rightwing hardliner support for his obnoxious presidential ambitions than these silly rights protocols.

Secondly, for all the talk that Bush made about wanting more "clarity" in the law, the Congress has passed a bill that is in fact quite unclear about the extent to which the law applies. The political appeal of the bill is to make it seem that the Republican Party is going hard after "aliens" and "enemy combatants" - basically, "terr'ists". But the law could apply equally well to US citizens, especially with its suspensions of habeas corpus. (Think that's not true? Think again.) The military dictatorship of Argentina back in the '70s and '80s became infamous for "disappearing" people they considered troublemakers - and sadly, the door is now open for similar things to happen here. Even if that's not the real intent of those who approve this bill, it disgusts me that they cannot see past their own short-term political futures to realize what an affront this bill is to the core principles that make (or made?) this country great. What kind of freedom do you really have when the government reserves for itself the option of making you "go away" with no legal recourse left for you to resist?

Thirdly, I'm disgusted at the fact that 12 Democrats, including putative Democrat Joe Lieberman signed on to this travesty. Another one of them shamefully enough is my own Senator, Ken Salazar. When an opposition party can't even muster opposition to one of the gravest threats ever posed by an out-of-control legislature since the passing of the Alien and Sedition Acts, I begin to wonder whether Democrats winning back the House or Senate in a month will make any difference. Where's the spine? Where's the integrity? Why not stand up for what you believe? And if torture and suspension of that quaint notion of habeus corpus is what you believe in, why the hell should I vote for you? This is one reason why I just cannot sign on with the Democratic Party, as much as I am disgusted with Republicans. They just never seem to learn.

Over at Daily Kos, you can find a reader diary or two trying to reassure us all that in the end, this bill won't amount to anything because of its blatant unconstitutionality, and that either a new Democratic congress would quickly vote to reverse it or that the Supreme Court would throw it out upon its first challenge. I'd love to believe all that, but as I mentioned before, when 34 House Democrats and 12 Senate Democrats sign on to something as repugnant as this, I'm not confident that these bedwetters would suddenly switch their votes around when their own party takes over. (This of course assumes that such a takeover is a sure thing, which it hardly is.) In addition, I also have doubts that the highly politicized Supreme Court, whose conservative voices frequently blather about "interpreting" the Constitution as opposed to "legislating from the bench", won't simply punt on this issue out of concern for their favorite party's near-term political fortunes - they did it before in 2000 in Florida, and surely the stakes seem similar to them now.

What an awful day for this country. It certainly qualifies as one of those issues where, "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention."

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