What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
Each step was so small, so inconsequential, so well explained or, on occasion, ‘regretted,’ that unless one understood what the whole thing was in principle, what all these ‘little measures’. . . must some day lead to, one no more saw it developing from day to day than a farmer in his field sees the corn growing. . . . Each act. . . is worse than the last, but only a little worse. You wait for the next and the next. You wait for one great shocking occasion, thinking that others, when such a shock comes, will join you in resisting somehow.
—Milton Mayer, “They Thought They Were Free. The Germans: 1938-1945.
The latest imposition on our liberties and freedoms is a piece of legislation titled the Military Commissions Act of 2006.
Broadly, the Act does the following three things:
- Strips the right of detainees to habeas corpus (the traditional right of detainees to challenge their detention);
- Gives the US President the power to detain indefinitely anyone—US or foreign nationals, from within the US, and from abroad—it deems to have provided material support to anti-US hostilities, and even use secret and coerced evidence (i.e. through use of torture) to try detainees who will be held in secret US military prisons;
- Gives US officials immunity from prosecution for torturing detainees that were captured before the end of 2005 by US military and CIA.
It’s frightening how quickly this bill, like the Patriot Act, was pushed through the Republican-controlled Congress with little substantive debate. According to TomPaine.com:
A final version of this legislation remained concealed right up to the day before the Senate hearing. Such secrecy disarms the public—and more importantly for today’s hearing, congressional staffers who need to brief their bosses—from analyzing and understanding the draft. This secrecy, aside from some leaked drafts of the bill, should sound alarm bells about what the administration is about to propose.
The same website also opines:
The power to label individuals as “enemy combatants”—and detain them indefinitely—presents one of the most basic threats not only to elemental human liberties, but also to the democratic order. Why? Because a government that can simply banish its foes—and those it erroneously seizes—from public sight simply by labeling them as beyond the pale is not a government that labors under the rule of law.
Wisely did former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer warn Americans that “they need to watch what they say, watch what they do.” With the Military Commissions Act of 2006, even U.S. citizens are subject to the label of “unlawful enemy combatants”. If you speak out against the Bush camp, heaven help you.
It was General Tommy Franks who said in an 2003 interview that he feared
…a massive casualty-producing event somewhere in the Western world — it may be in the United States of America — that causes our population to question our own Constitution, and to begin to militarize our country in order to avoid a repeat of another mass casualty-producing event. Which in fact, then begins to potentially unravel the fabric of our constitution.
As Keith Olbermann (with whom I have a love/hate relationship) opines in the following stirring commentary, the fabric of our constitution is being unraveled, “and all this without the attack”.
The Center for Constitutional Rights has filed a challenge against this atrocious legislation. We shall see what, if anything, comes of it. I’m not holding my breath. 1984, here we come.
This Act should outrage every good citizen and lover of liberty. Patrick Henry astutely said that “those who expect to reap the blessings of freedom must undergo the fatigue of supporting it.
But God said it best:
Therefore, I, the Lord, justify you, and your brethren of my church, in befriending that law which is the constitutional law of the land;
And as pertaining to law of man, whatsoever is more or less than this, cometh of evil.
I, the Lord God, make you free, therefore ye are free indeed; and the law also maketh you free.
Nevertheless, when the wicked rule the people mourn. (D&C 98:6-9)