Sunday, September 17, 2006

Defending the Constitution

The Bush Administration will be using these next few weeks get Congress to formally embrace the Bush Administration’s policies on torture, rendition, arbitrary arrest and imprisonment, indefinite imprisonment without trial or even formal charges, warrantless searches and seizures, and a destruction of the principle of separation of powers and checks and balances.

I have written several posts on this subject, and I am not here to repeat those arguments. Those who are interested will be invited to revisit those posts below.

Here, I want to point out that the Bush Administration’s power to influence Congress is shrinking and will only get lower from this point on. So, if the American people can make a goal-line stand to defend these moral principles from those who would violate them, then the job of protecting them will only get easier in the future.

The Bush Administration argues that we need to brutalize prisoners to protect America from attacks. I argued in “The Ethics of Torture” that we get more and better information from people who join our side because they think that we are good and honorable people who have a right to win this battle.

The Bush Administration argues that he needs these special military commissions to ensure that those who are accused of being terrorists are convicted and never allowed to threaten America again. I argued in “Punishment and the Case for Due Process” that in addition to punishing the guilty, we need to make sure that those punished are actually guilty.

Whenever the Bush Administration discusses these principles of arbitrary arrest and indefinite imprisonment, it speaks as if everybody they capture is guilty, even though over 90% of the people captured are eventually set free. More importantly, they are being set free after having had months to years in prison learning to hate Americans – a hatred that they then teach their family and their neighbors once we release them. If they were not anti-American before capture, it is easy to understand how we teach them to be anti-American with the injustice inherent in our principles of capture and interrogation.

An article in Salon magazine out today titled, “U.S. War Prisons Legal Vacuum for 14,000” tells of people rounded up on their sleep, hauled off to prison, and then brutalized until they give information on who else can be rounded up. (You may have to click to view an advertisement to get to the article.) We know from experience that people will simply give names to avoid further abuse – even when the abuse is not physical, as happened in the Red Scare in America in the 1950s. Then, Americans gave false information about others just to save their jobs. And those victims were only blacklisted and interrogated, not abused in prison.

The Bush Administration says that it needs this power to evesdrop because they want to listen in when Al-Quida calls America. I argued in “Who is Bush Spying On, Really?” that the purpose of judicial oversite (warrants) is not to prevent the Bush Administration from spying on our nations enemies. It is to make sure that the Bush Administration is not using these powers for political purposes (to spy on political rivals) or personal gain. MSNBC carried a war today titled, “Ties to GOP trumped skill on Iraq team,” to report how, in assigning jobs to rebuild Iraq, “loyalty to Bush administration was paramount.”

We saw with Hurricane Katrina that even important jobs of protecting Americans from natural and man-made disasters went first to political loyalists without experience or competence to do the job. We saw, in short, how the Bush Administration was willing to sacrifice the safety of Americans to use their power to benefit political friends and allies.

We have reason to suspect that the Bush Administration might find it somewhat easier to add a name to the list of people it spies on if they think that the person is not sufficiently enthusiastic about Bush Administration policies.

One of the arguments that the Bush Administration makes about the treatment of prisoners is that the principles in the Geneva Convention are too vague to be a useful guide to interrogators.

I argued in, “Outrages on Personal Dignity Made Legal” that much of our law contains vague terms (like “due process” and “just cause” and “cruel and unusual punishment”) because being more specific creates loopholes for anybody sufficiently imaginative to devise a form of abuse that does not fit any of the precise definitions.

Senate Justice Committee chairman Arlen Specter’s proposed bill to give the President the authority to take its case secretly to the FISA court, and then ignore the results, was the subject of a posting I wrote called, “Unchecked Power = Tyranny

Finally, I asked the question of whether you thought the government should reflect your moral values. Then, assuming that the answer is ‘yes’, I asked the simple question, “Are These Your Moral Values?”

Some of us are very much concerned about the decline of moral values in America -- a decline precipitated by an Administration that tells the children of today all around the world that torture is okay, rendition is okay, arbitrary arrest and indefinite imprisonment are okay, warrantless spying is okay, and an executive unencumbered by a system of checks and balances are okay.

When it comes to standing up against these abuses, I am not speaking about sending letters to your various Senators and Representatives. They are going to listen to the polls. A better strategy would be to take these issues up with your family, friends, co-workers, neighbors, and in any public forum that you have available. A vocal and public outcry against these policies (and those who endorse them) is far more powerful than any letter.

So, take some time, come up with a couple of sharp arguments, and spread those arguments among the people. We can complain about how well or how poorly legislators defend the Constitution. However, ultimately, it is our job to defend the Constitution, and this is one of the greatest assaults the Constitution has ever been subjected to.

Do you care enough to help defend it?

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