Chilling words from President Bush, in his recent press conference with Karzai: “But I will comment on this — that we’re on the offense against an enemy that wants to do us harm. And we must have the tools necessary to protect our country. On the one hand, if al Qaeda or al Qaeda affiliates are calling somebody in the country, we need to know why. And so Congress needs to pass that piece of legislation. If somebody has got information about a potential attack, we need to be able to ask that person some questions. And so Congress has got to pass that piece of legislation.” [emphasis mine]
The words I chose to emphasize represent a very egregious case of doublespeak. It purposely glosses over very important things. Firstly, he doesn’t even say “coercive interrogation” or said that he has “to update our methods of interrogating terrorist detainees” (as the I found out the Traditional Values Coalition said). He doesn’t even allude to physically and psychologically abusing prisoners of war. Stripping someone naked and spraying him with cold water in a cold room in order to induce hypothermia becomes merely asking a person some questions. We’ve gone beyond euphemism into purposeful denial.
But it gets worse. Let’s examine this new detainee bill. According to a Washington Post article, Detainee Measure to Have Fewer Restrictions, the bill will allow anyone who “has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States” to be detained indefinitely, including legal aliens and citizens. Now, anyone can be detained indefinitely, without being able to challenge their detention in court, at the President’s discretion. The writ of habeas corpus, “a writ issued in order to bring somebody who has been detained into court, usually for a decision on whether the detention is lawful” (according to Encarta), has been suspended. Furthermore, the president can not only detain anyone, but he can do this anywhere. If you don’t find this strange, you do not understand what it means to live in a democratic republic.
This precious right, the writ of habeas corpus, extends back hundreds of years. Anyone who is a true conservative cannot say that this right which has stood the test of time, for nearly a millenium, should be suspended in the face of the current terrorist threat. The blanket statement “9/11 changed everything” is fundamentally opposed to the Burkean conception of conservatism. It cannot change everything. It cannot change our long tradition of human rights. It cannot change our Constitution.
Itâ€™s right here in Article 1, Section 9: â€œThe Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.â€
Of course, I’ve glossed over the actions of Lincoln during the Civil War and FDR during WWII, but surely you can see the difference between their actions and Bush’s? We have entered an undefined, forever-war against terror. There is no time when these rights can be returned to the citizens. Where is the invasion? Where is the rebellion?
Congress swore to uphold the Constitution â€œagainst all enemies, foreign and domestic.â€ They are supposed to uphold our rights. They are supposed to serve as a check against the excesses of the executive. In my estimation, Congress has abdicated its duty. Theyâ€™ve given the executive discretion to detain anyone, anywhere, without having to give a reason.
Congress has failed the American people.
Luckily, we have three branches of government. We have the extremely undemocratic institution of the Supreme Court, which will hopefully strike down this law. It was created to protect us from the passions of the majority. If this line of defense fails, we may have the states to depend on. And if that failsâ€¦
â€Whensoever therefore the legislative shall transgress this fundamental rule of society; and either by ambition, fear, folly, or corruption, endeavour to grasp themselves, or put into the hands of any other, an absolute power over the lives, liberties, and estates of the people; by this breach of trust they forfeit the power the people had put into their hands for quite contrary ends, and it devolves to the people, who have a right to resume their original liberty, and, by the establishment of a new legislative, (such as they shall think fit) provide for their own safety and security, which is the end for which they are in society.â€ — John Locke, Second Treatise.
Lest you think I advocate overthrow of the government, I give you this, which is also from John Locke: â€œGreat mistakes in the ruling part, many wrong and inconvenient laws, and all the slips of human frailty, will be born by the people without mutiny or murmur. But if a long train of abuses, prevarications, and artifices, all tending the same way, make the design visible to the people, and they cannot but feel what they lie under, and see whither they are going; it is not to be wondered, that they should then rouse themselves, and endeavour to put the rule into such hands which may secure to them the ends for which government was at first erectedâ€¦â€
For now, this is a great mistake in the ruling part, and we must fight to have the mistake rectified. Hopefully, it will never get to this point, but if they start knocking on doors and legal residents and citizens begin disappearing in good numbers, then we must invoke our final line of defense. For now, we have only taken the first steps on a long march towards tyranny. We must pray that our other lines of defense do not fail.