Friday, September 29, 2006

A Different Country Today...

Concerned about the Detainee Treatment bill that was just passed in the Senate last night, I turned to a trusted source for some guidance, to hear if the experts think this thing is as bad as it seems to me. Here's Molly Ivins' take on what went down:

The bill also expands the definition of an unlawful enemy combatant to cover anyone who has "has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States." Quick, define "purposefully and materially." One person has already been charged with aiding terrorists because he sold a satellite TV package that includes the Hezbollah network.

The bill simply removes a suspect's right to challenge his detention in court. This is a rule of law that goes back to the Magna Carta in 1215. That pretty much leaves the barn door open.

As Vladimir Bukovsky, the Soviet dissident, wrote, an intelligence service free to torture soon "degenerates into a playground for sadists." But not unbridled sadism -- you will be relieved that the compromise took out the words permitting interrogation involving "severe pain" and substituted "serious pain," which is defined as "bodily injury that involves extreme physical pain."

I wonder what Gerry Spence's take is on this new legislation and where it leaves us as a nation? After all, he's seen the cutting edge of raw government power up close, going up against and defeating a federal prosecutor by the name of Giuliani in the Imelda Marcos case and seen the lengths prosecutors and law enforcement will go to to secure convictions in cases like Randy Weaver's and more recently, Brandon Mayfield's. In short, at times like these, you turn to the experts for solace, but something tells me Mr. Spence's take won't be heartwarming.

Sadly, I think when it's now illegal to "purposefully and materially support[] hostilities against the United States" it's time to start thinking about whether it's worth it to leave comments critical of the current administration on the internet. The truth, it turns out, will not set you free, but might get you locked up.

Now you respond that I'm exagerating, that they won't be coming for you or me soon, but the point is that they could, they now have that power and there's not much we could do about it if they did. No right to challenge our designation as an enemy combatant in court even if we are American citizens, no right to a trial and no right to be free from torture in the interim. Well, actually we'll be free from "serious pain" but still subject to "bodily injury that involves extreme physical pain." How heartwarming. And now it's sanctioned by Congress. Let the games begin, they are thinking today, wondering how far they can truly take this new power that's been handed to them.

That's the point Molly Ivins misses, I think. If Jose Padilla, an American citizen, can be designated as an "enemy combatant," held indefinitely at Gitmo, subjected to "extreme physical pain," without a right to challenge his detention by a writ of habeas corpus, the same thing could happen to you or I. We're just a couple steps away from that, and yesterday we made a giant leap in that direction, with 12 Democratic Senators supporting this retroactive change in the law.

Think the people in power won't to push their new powers to their limits and beyond? Here's today's Washington Post's summary of the GOP spin on the Detainee Treatment Bill's nearly party line votes. (h/t Glenn Greenwald)

Republicans, especially in the House, plan to use the military commission and wiretapping legislation as a one-two punch against Democrats this fall. The legislative action prompted extraordinarily blunt language from House GOP leaders, foreshadowing a major theme for the campaign.Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-Ill.) issued a written statement on Wednesday declaring [emphasis in original]: "Democrat Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and 159 of her Democrat colleagues voted today in favor of MORE rights for terrorists."GOP leaders continued such attacks after the wiretapping vote. "For the second time in just two days, House Democrats have voted to protect the rights of terrorists," Hastert said last night, while Boehner lashed out at what he called "the Democrats' irrational opposition to strong national security policies."

In other words, supporting the rights guaranteed in the Constitution will be marketed as supporting the rights of "terrorists."

Get it. "If you're not with 'us,' you're with the terrorists," is now the law of the land.

And those who "purposefully and materially support[] hostilities against the United States," can be indefinitely held as "enemy combatants," tortured, without a right to challenge their detentions and without the right to trials based on the rules of evidence or on the exclusionary rule.

In short, we woke up in a different country today. We've exchanged liberty for perceived security and, forgetting about history, are now doomed to repeat it. The notion that "It Can't Happen Here" is about to be tested by people already corrupted by power and recently handed even more than they imagined.

Please correct me if I'm wrong. I sure hope I am...

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