By Heather Cottin
Published Oct 15, 2006 11:28 PM www.workers.org
George W. Bush, early in his presidency, said that things would be a lot easier if he were a dictator. With the complicity of the legislative and judicial branches of government, Bush could get much closer to his wish.
Only the efforts of the people, united to defend their rights and to oppose empire, stand in his way.
Amid little fanfare, on Sept. 27 Congress passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 (S3930), which effectively suspends the writ of habeas corpus for those deemed “enemy combatants” by the president.
Habeas corpus has been touted as “the foundation of all human rights legislation since before the Magna Carta.” The U.S. Supreme Court has said it is “the fundamental instrument for safeguarding individual freedom against arbitrary and lawless state action.”
Under S3930, according to a New York Times editorial of Sept. 28, once a person is designated an “enemy combatant” he/she is subject “to arrest and indefinite detention with no hope of appeal.” With the elimination of habeas corpus, the Times points out, the disappeared “would lose the basic right to challenge their imprisonment.” Forever.
The act gives the Bush administration the authority to decide what does and does not constitute torture, and allows other governments, allies or puppets of the United States, to torture and imprison these so-called “enemy combatants” at will.
Patriot Act on crack
The Military Commissions Act subjects U.S. citizens, as well as others, to abuses that were denied to the government under the USA Patriot Act. This is accomplished by redefining an “unlawful enemy combatant” as “a person who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents who is not a lawful enemy combatant.”
It also says, “No court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.”
There are already an unknown number of people “awaiting” in torture cells and prisons in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo and prisons in the United States. The U.S. is no stranger to repression and torture, as its history from the Indian Wars to the Philippines to Vietnam to Latin America has shown.
The British Magna Carta, which established habeas corpus in 1215, has for centuries been ignored when it served the state’s agenda. In 1870, Karl Marx wrote of the British treatment of Irish revolutionaries: “Thousands of people have been arrested ... without ever having been tried, brought before a judge or court, or even charged. Not content with depriving them of their liberty, the ... Government has had them tortured in the most savage way imaginable.” (Karl Marx, “The English Government and the Fenian Prisoners,” 1870)
Who is at risk?
How broad will the definition of “enemy combatant” go? In a speech on Sept. 5, George Bush declared war on the entire anti-war movement. He said there is “a media campaign to create a wedge between the American people and their government,” and that anyone who would say that the war on terror is causing financial losses and casualties is acting “under the influence of Bin Laden.”
Bush has only to sign this bill into law. In the crosshairs now are Arab and Muslim people, but as the case of attorney Lynne Stewart shows, and raids on immigrants indicate, it is open season on anyone the government wishes to detain, deport or prosecute.
Even establishment liberals are worried. Sen. Patrick Leahy said on Pacifica Radio’s “Democracy Now” on Sept. 29 that S3930 “removes as many checks and balances as possible so that any president can basically set the law, determine what laws they’ll follow and what laws they’ll break and not have anybody be able to question them on it.”
Marjorie Cohn, president-elect of the National Lawyers Guild, wrote that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 “provides the basis for the president to round up both aliens and U.S. citizens he determines have given material support to terrorists. Kellogg Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Cheney’s Halliburton, is constructing a huge facility at an undisclosed location to hold tens of thousands of undesirables.” (Counterpunch, Sept. 30)
Voting in favor of S3930 were 65 senators, 53 of them Republicans and 12 Democrats.
The New York Times worries that S3930 is “a tyrannical law that will be ranked with the low points in American democracy, our generation’s version of the Alien and Sedition Acts” of 1798.
But people resisted those laws. Over 200 years ago immigrants and native-born citizens smashed those acts without intervention or protection of the Congress or the courts.
During the Korean War, the U.S. Congress declared a State of Emergency that is still on the books. The law has not been used because of peoples’ resistance movements, beginning with the civil rights movement.
Laws are only as strong as the government’s ability to enforce them, which means that people in motion have the right and the ability to thwart any draconian attempts to curb their rights.