For five years, President Bush and his crew have been gassing on about the ter'rists who want to kill us because they hate our freedom. For a while there recently, he and his ilk were calling them “Islam-o-fascists,” but they had to drop that rhetoric because the American public, was, surprisingly, smart enough to know what “fascism” means, and, therefore, the word apparently wasn't polling well enough to keep it on the lips of hyperactive right-wing commentators.
But is the American public smart enough to know that, on Sept. 29, their Congress abdicated its duty to serve as a check against presidential power run amok? That's the day the House of Representatives followed the Senate in approving the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which threatens to further chip away at the freedoms Bush claims to be working so hard to defend-in Iraq, a place that had nothing whatsoever to do with terrorism until he nonsensically invaded it and created a battlefield on which those terrorists could ply their trade and recruit new members.
We say “threatens” to further chip away because, no thanks to those members of Congress who are either chest-thumping Republicans or fear-struck Democrats, there remains one last tenuous line of defense: the Supreme Court. We say “tenuous” because Bush may have sufficiently stacked it with justices hostile to any reasonable notion of basic civil rights.
It was the Supreme Court back in June that rejected, by a 5-3 vote, what The New York Times last week correctly called “kangaroo courts” set up by Bush to try suspected terrorists. The commissions, the majority held, violated both U.S. and international law. In response, Bush asked Congress to give him the authority to declare anyone—U.S. citizens included—an unlawful enemy combatant and allow him to try these enemy combatants in special military courts.
The law Congress passed allows the president—pending a judicial challenge—to use evidence gathered in overseas American torture chambers prior to the day Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act of 2005, and absolves those who committed cruel and unusual acts against detainees of any criminal liability. It also limits these enemy combatants' right to hear some of the evidence the government claims to have against them. It strips non-citizens of the habeas corpus right to contest their incarceration. And since it doesn't allow U.S. citizens to file any motions in civilian courts, citizens might retain those, but what good do they do if they have no way to exercise them?
So, essentially, Bush says we're at war against terrorists—not to be confused with the war in Iraq—and during a time of war, he's allowed to strip America's enemies of basic due-process rights normally associated with civilian justice, and he's allowed to decide what's torture and what's not. He tried to do all this without legislative or judicial authority, but he got caught, so he used the Republicans' fear of losing Congress (with the help of 44 Democrats) to quickly grease a law through the system.
But are we really at war? Can Bush designate the entire globe as a battlefield? Congress isn't allowed to suspend habeas corpus unless we're under foreign invasion or domestic rebellion. Does a single act of mass murder by foreigners five years ago qualify as an invasion? Did the various international treaties ratified by the U.S. preclude Bush from treating prisoners in cruel, degrading or inhuman ways long before passage of last year's Detainee Treatment Act? Can Congress allow the president to simply do away with Common Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions, which prohibits trials by any means other than “a regularly constituted court affording all the judicial guarantees which are recognized as indispensable by civilized peoples”?
These are the questions the Supreme Court will have to answer—because even if the Democrats take the House and the Senate, they won't have enough votes to repeal the law, let alone override a presidential veto. We cling to hope that legislative authorization alone won't move Justices Stevens, Breyer, Souter, Ginsburg and Kennedy off of their summertime repudiation of Bush's wholly undemocratic, wholly uncivilized endeavors.
And we wonder why it is that the American public isn't apoplectic with outrage over this ugly business. Have we taken for granted the due-process rights the Founding Fathers saw fit to gave us? Are we so consumed by a salacious scandal involving a congressman's cravings for teenage boys that we just can't be bothered? Or are we swayed by knuckle-dragging Republicans who taunt their opponents as terrorist coddlers?
They don't seem to realize that it's not terrorists we're trying to protect here—it's the people swept up in anti-terrorist mania who aren't guilty of anything who desperately need our help.