Tomorrow is supposed to be a day of reflection and celebration over the 220 year history of our grand and wonderful Bill of Rights. In preparation for that the U.S. Congress decided to piss all over it today in our perpetual effort to be safe from evil terrorists. The conference version of the National Defense Authorization Act of 2012 was reported and passed today, still including the controversial parts of this legislation dealing with detention of terrorist suspects.
In deciding that we were not nearly safe enough from the scourge of Al Qaeda, Senators Levin and McCain (its bipartisan so it must be good) with help from my own home state Senator Ayotte, placed a provision in the bill for dealing with terrorism suspects. Our new rules have declared that the United States is now part of the “battlefield” in our asymmetric, never ending “War on Terror” and that anyone labeled as a terrorist sympathizer, even if captured on U.S. soil, is to be detained by the military, with no real way to challenge that detention. This will also apply to American Citizens. Let us make sure we understand this: you are an American citizen, you are accused of being a terrorist, by law you are now placed in military custody, with no due process rights. Any problem with that? Our esteemed legislators, people who supposed swore an oath to uphold the constitution above all else, seem to have no problem with this. This simply codifies what we have been practicing all along they say. Isn’t that comforting? The administration had threatened to veto this bill, made a big deal of it actually over this issue, but like most other questions of principle the President and his team folded.
Many people, including former military men, have seen the problem with this provision, but they are going to be ignored. We seem to be ignoring quite a bit in our need to feel safe. Remember this: “The right of the people to be secure in their persons …against unreasonable searches and seizure shall not be violated…” Have you ever run across this little gem: “no person shall be…deprived of life liberty or property without due process of law”? This ring a bell: “In all criminal prosecutions the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial”? All of this comes from our Bill of Rights. There were many who would not support the constitution without specific safeguards for individual freedom. They were scoffed at by the writers of the document, they claimed that a perfectly limited government had been crated, and that such things as declarations of rights would muddy the waters. These were, after all, very bright men who had all our best interests at heart. No one believed that then, and we should not believe it now. There are those who talk about how important these measures are in a time of war, and that we have had plenty of instances when our rights were rolled back in order to properly fight a war, and then protected again. This should strike everyone as a completely asinine argument for implementing this. Yes, we have shelved the constitution in the past in a time of war, and when the danger passed it was pulled off the shelf, dusted off and placed back where it belongs. Because of that we should all just sit back and say “sure, just till you beat Al Qaeda just spy on everybody and lock up anyone you see fit.” Our rights were codified because you should never trust in the government to do what is right and proper. When exactly will the danger pass? Without the courts overseeing these things how do we know if these people should be detained? The only people who seem to not be taking this seriously are the supporters of this provision. For our legislators to simply flush away our most cherished liberties while decrying individuals who do not want to place their faith in politicians and bureaucrats to always do the right thing means that they are not being proper stewards of the responsibility that was placed with them. Yes, we have done things in the heat of the moment before that violated our constitutional principles, but that should be a teaching moment of what not to do, not an excuse to go even further down the road.
Wartime is always different for a country and its citizenry. There will always be dangers for the Republic in that situation, but this is why the framers of our Constitution placed the responsibility with Congress for declaring war. What they never wanted was a situation similar to the one they fought a revolution against, where the Executive power could declare someone an enemy of the state and indefinitely detain them without evidence or trial. The Bill of Rights exists to protect us from the excesses of government and the individuals who man it, even in times of desperation and fear. Unfortunately our leaders have forgotten this, and have tried to place in writing the notion that some people and situations are so scary that our principles should not matter. I would send a well deserved “for shame” towards our legislators, but they will surely ignore it, the same way they ignored all those who highlighted what should be the very bright line between security and liberty, a line which we will be losing this week.