1/10/2005

Civil Liberties and Dissent

Thom Hartmann, commentator for Commondreams.org, writes:
"While the sexy stuff that members of Congress and the news media want to talk about when they question Alberto Gonzales is torture, the torture of these and other prisoners in US custody is really a subset of a larger issue.
The bigger question here is whether George W. Bush has the right to ignore the U.S. Constitution and international treaties, violate human rights and civil liberties, promote "preemptive" wars, and build concentration camps for the permanent imprisonment of untried and unconvicted individuals - all simply because he says he can. And whether we want the chief law enforcement officer of the land to be a man who agrees that Bush stands above the law and the Constitution.
The question, ultimately, is whether our nation will continue to stand for the values upon which it was founded.
Early American conservatives suggested that democracy was so ultimately weak it couldn't withstand the assault of newspaper editors and citizens who spoke out against it, or terrorists from the Islamic Barbary Coast, leading John Adams to pass America's first PATRIOT Act-like laws, the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798. President Thomas Jefferson rebuked those who wanted America ruled by an iron-handed presidency that could - as Adams had - throw people in jail for "crimes" such as speaking political opinion, or without constitutional due process.
The question for our day is who will speak up against George W. Bush?
Oddly, so far it's only been Justice Antonin Scalia, who wrote in his minority dissent in the case of Hamdi v. Rumsfeld that the President does not have the power to suspend habeas corpus by executive decree. Instead, he wrote: "If civil rights are to be curtailed during wartime, it must be done openly and democratically, as the Constitution requires..."
Scalia went on to quote Alexander Hamilton from Federalist Number 8. "The Founders warned us about the risk," Scalia noted in his Hamdi dissent, "and equipped us with a Constitution designed to deal with it.
The Democrats in Congress say they're going to confirm Judge Gonzales and "keep their powder dry" for future, larger battles like Supreme Court nominations. But as Pastor Niemöller reminds us, the loss of liberty is incremental, not sudden and dramatic.
One either totally stands for republican democracy, the Constitution, and the rule of law in our republic, or one doesn't. Where are the true democrats among the Democrats? (Or, for that matter, the true republicans among the Republicans?) Have they all lost their voices?
First Bush and Gonzales came for the terrorists, but I was not a terrorist, so I did not speak out. Then they came for the enemy combatants, but I was not a combatant, so I did not object. Then they came for the protestors resisting "free speech zones" near Bush campaign rallies, but I was not a protestor and so I only voiced my unease.
If we - and our elected representatives - do not speak out now, loudly and forcefully, it may not be long before they come for the rest of us."

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