When Hillary Clinton said that her husband Bill was the target of “a vast right-wing conspiracy”, her critics just laughed at her. No one is laughing now.
Next week, President Bush will sign the “Military Commissions Act of 2006” into law. The new legislation will repeal the central tenets of the U.S. Constitution which require the state to charge a man with a crime before putting him in jail, as well as the Eighth Amendment’s prohibition of “cruel and inhuman” punishment. The law will allow Bush to imprison anyone he chooses and abuse them as he sees fit. It places Bush above the law, our first American despot.
The march towards tyranny has been calculated and relentless. Hillary was right; it is a conspiracy. Prominent right-wing organizations have worked tirelessly to push the country toward totalitarian government and they are very close to succeeding. The alphabet soup of conservative think tanks and foundations have strategically aligned themselves with the major players in the corporate, media and banking establishments and removed most of the obstacles to absolute power. The Military Commissions Act adds a few final touches by eliminating habeas corpus.
The new law is designed to deprive terror suspects of “internationally-recognized” human rights. It tip-toes around the Geneva Conventions and permits Bush to unilaterally determine the precise meaning of “cruel, inhuman and degrading” treatment. It strengthens Bush’s interpretation of “enemy combatant” which now includes anyone who “has purposely and materially supported hostilities against the United States.” By this definition, Bush is free to imprison American citizens who merely disagree with his analysis of the war on terror. For example, Bush recently attacked his critics for reiterating the findings of the National Intelligence Estimate (NIE) which states that the war in Iraq is creating more terrorists. The document draws the obvious conclusion that Iraq has become a “recruiting sergeant” for violent jihad. Bush lashed out at his detractors saying that they had “selectively quoted” the NIE and were “buying into the enemy’s propaganda.” The question is: Can a citizen be arrested for “materially supporting hostilities against the United States ” by professing belief in the conclusions of the NIE if the president says that it is “propaganda”?
Can that be construed as “aiding the enemy”?
Bruce Ackerman clarifies this point in an article in this week’s LA Times. He says the new legislation “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 of the other normal protections of the Bill of Rights.”
Bush’s sweeping new powers have been carefully withheld from public scrutiny. In fact, in the nearly 800 articles which appeared on Google News, not one of them indicated in the headline that the new law repeals habeas corpus (although many articles on liberal web sites refer to habeas in the title) The vast majority of mainstream articles appear under the rubric of “Detainee Treatment Laws” which is deliberately misleading and intended to minimize the grave effect the law will have on our constitutional form of government. Again, the media has shown itself to be a steadfast ally to its friends in power and an enemy to basic principles of democracy.
The new bill also allows secret or coerced evidence to be used in military tribunals and provides legal immunity for military and CIA agents who engaged in torture before the end of 2005. (Despite the fact that retroactive law has no legal foundation)
The Military Commissions Act is the culmination of six years of withering attacks on the Bill of Rights. From the very beginning, Bush administration attorneys have set about to remove the limitations to presidential power. This has resulted in a long list of systematic violations of international law including secret detentions, disappearances, torture, humiliating treatment, indefinite detention without charge, and criminal rendition. All of these activities are either transparently illegal or war crimes.
The administration is clearly contemptuous of our laws and will not respect restrictions on the power of the executive. Their actions have paved the way for the New World Order and the end of American democracy.
The administration’s far-right fanatics have focused on habeas corpus as the cornerstone of the American judicial system. If the president has the statutory authority to incarcerate citizens or non-citizens without filing charges the rest of the Bill of Rights is irrelevant. “Imprisonment without review” is the primary lever of tyrannical rule and it explains why Bush has targeted habeas since the arrest of Jose Padilla (American citizen) in May 2002. The government kept Padilla in a military brig for three-and-a-half years without charging him with a crime in an attempt to savage habeas and allow the president to decide who is entitled to “inalienable rights” and who is not. Under the new legislation, “inalienable rights” will be reduced to provisional gifts from the president which can be arbitrarily rescinded by executive edict.
When Bush signs The Military Commissions Act of 2006 into law, America, as we know it, will cease to exist. The fundamental safeguards of due process, judicial review and the presumption of innocence will no longer be guaranteed. The heart and soul of the Constitution will be eviscerated leaving us exposed to the erratic and aggressive behavior of the state. Traditionally, the state has been the greatest threat to personal liberty. We expect that to be the case here as well.
Mike Whitney lives in Washington state, and can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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