Friday, September 29, 2006

New Federal Law: There is No Law

    Exactly what does it mean to live in a “free country?”  Does it mean that you have certain inalienable rights, such as a right to trial and legal representation?  If one’s rights can be summarily be suspended, revoked or made irrelevant forever by a single branch of government without recourse to the courts or a legislature, is one still “free?”

    On September 28, 2006, the Senate passed a bill giving President Bush extraordinary abilities to do almost anything if not anything, with almost anyone, if not anyone, he chooses.  The Bill awaits expected reconciliation with the House version before it is signed into law by the President.

According to a NY Times editorial on 9/28/06, these are some of the bill’s biggest flaws:

“Enemy Combatants: A dangerously broad definition of “illegal enemy combatant” in the bill could subject legal residents of the United States, as well as foreign citizens living in their own countries, to summary arrest and indefinite detention with no hope of appeal.  The president could give the power to apply this label to anyone he wanted.

The Geneva Conventions: The bill would repudiate a half-century of international precedent by allowing Mr. Bush to decide on his own what abusive interrogation methods he considered permissible.  And his decision could stay secret — there’s no requirement that this list be published.

Habeas Corpus: Detainees in U.S. military prisons would lose the basic right to challenge their imprisonment.  These cases do not clog the courts, nor coddle terrorists.  They simply give wrongly imprisoned people a chance to prove their innocence.

Judicial Review: The courts would have no power to review any aspect of this new system, except verdicts by military tribunals.  The bill would limit appeals and bar legal actions based on the Geneva Conventions, directly or indirectly.  All Mr. Bush would have to do to lock anyone up forever is to declare him an illegal combatant and not have a trial.

Coerced Evidence: Coerced evidence would be permissible if a judge considered it reliable — already a contradiction in terms — and relevant.  Coercion is defined in a way that exempts anything done before the passage of the 2005 Detainee Treatment Act, and anything else Mr. Bush chooses.

Secret Evidence: American standards of justice prohibit evidence and testimony that is kept secret from the defendant, whether the accused is a corporate executive or a mass murderer.  But the bill as redrafted by Mr. Cheney seems to weaken protections against such evidence.

Offenses: The definition of torture is unacceptably narrow, a virtual reprise of the deeply cynical memos the administration produced after 9/11.  Rape and sexual assault are defined in a retrograde way that covers only forced or coerced activity, and not other forms of nonconsensual sex.  The bill would effectively eliminate the idea of rape as torture.”

Under this law, the President could literally designate Al Gore, the Dixie Chicks and Jon Stewart “enemy combatants” and imprison them, secretly if he chooses, torture them, deny them even an opportunity to see an  attorney or go to court, deny them contact their families and possibly even kill them.

Here is the question that Americans must ask themselves, although too few will: Are we still free?

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