Thursday, September 28, 2006

We knew what was happening. The Fall of America, part VII.

If you’re a Chinese high school student of 2018 reading this as part of your essay on “how did 21st century America betray its ideals”, you should not believe that bunk about “regular Americans didn’t know what was happening”. If Americans didn’t “know” what was happening, it was because they chose not to look.

So don’t buy it. Guilty we are. We did not deserve the legacy we inherited. I hope your China will find a better path …

Antiterrorism Bill on Detainees, Geneva Conventions - Rushing Off a Cliff - New York Times,

….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.

There is not enough time to fix these bills, especially since the few Republicans who call themselves moderates have been whipped into line, and the Democratic leadership in the Senate seems to have misplaced its spine. If there was ever a moment for a filibuster, this was it.

We don’t blame the Democrats for being frightened. The Republicans have made it clear that they’ll use any opportunity to brand anyone who votes against this bill as a terrorist enabler. But Americans of the future won’t remember the pragmatic arguments for caving in to the administration.

They’ll know that in 2006, Congress passed a tyrannical law that will be ranked with the low points in American democracy, our generation’s version of the Alien and Sedition Acts.

Update 9/28: I bolded the part about the "spineless democrats", but on reflection this is a perfect Rovian trap. The man has no limits. If only we were better than Rove knows we are, but I fear his low opinion is justified. He's right that Americans will fall for his trap. Perhaps Democrats can do nothing but remain silent and vote against the bill.

Update 9/29/06: There's some "law" of the Internet that forbids comparisons to the Nazi era. Is there an appeal process by which one can obtain exemption from the law? I think we should invoke it. Really, though, I'm not sure the Nazis went in for this kind of Orwellian process. It's not even clearly Soviet. Maybe more tinpot dictatorship ...

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