The Terrorists Win
By Michael I Niman ArtVoice (etc.) 10/5/06
Last week was one that will go down in infamy as one of the most important and shameful weeks in western history. While future Americans might not be allowed to freely discuss such subversive topics as history, school children in other countries will learn what happened in the last week of September, 2006. A mere five years after a band of razor wielding two-bit terrorists declared war on America by destroying the World Trade Center, both houses of the US Congress finished their job and voted to end all pretenses of democracy and begin the transition to an imperial form of governance backed by state terror.
Habeas Corpus: 1215-2006
On Wednesday, Thursday and Friday of last week, while most Americans were busy discussing the possibilities of the new football season, the US Senate and Congress voted on and passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006. Of course, unless you’re reading The Christian Science Monitor or Al Jazeerah, you probably weren’t even privy to the proper name of the bill that ended our 791 year-old British-American legal tradition of Habeas Corpus – the foundation of all human rights legislation since before the Magna Carta.
Habeas Corpus, which is Latin for “you may have the body,” is, according to the US Supreme Court, “the fundamental instrument for safeguarding individual freedom against arbitrary and lawless state action.” It is the basic requirement, formerly at least rhetorically respected, by almost every legal system on earth, that states that people who are arrested must be charged with a crime, and eventually have their day in court to defend themselves. The British Parliament adopted Habeas Corpus as the law of the land across the empire in 1679, while historians trace the first appearance of Habeas Corpus in British law to 1215. The Military Commissions Act of 2006 ends all of that, placing the United States at the bottom of the dung heap when it comes to legal protections of the most basic of human rights – the right not to be “disappeared” by one’s own government.
On the subject of disappearances, it seems all references to The Military Commissions Act of 2006 were preemptively disappeared before the bill was voted on. Talk about obfuscation – according to a Lexis/Nexis database search of all major US newspapers, only five articles mentioned the bill by name, and of the five, only two mentioned it before it was voted on.
Quisling Genuflection to Fascism Bill of 2006
The rest of the US press, according to another Lexis/Nexis search, made up euphemistically loaded names for the bill, such as The Detainee Bill, Interrogation Legislation, or the Terror Bill, as if this law would only affect “terrorists.” Of course, all this confusion made it quite difficult to locate a copy of the actual bill before it was voted on, and to locate a roll call for the vote after it was passed. It shouldn’t require a sleuth to find out something as simple as the name of the bill that essentially ends our pretenses toward democracy. In any event, I’ll join the rest of the press corps and rename the bill for my own purposes as well, hereon in calling it the Quisling Genuflection to Fascism Bill of 2006, which I’ll simply gloss as the “Quisling Act.”
According to the New York Times, the Quisling Act (s3930) creates an undefined category of people called “enemy combatants,” a designation which can be arbitrarily doled out by the Bush administration or their minions. According to The Times, once designated as an enemy combatant, a person can be subjected “to arrest and indefinite detention with no hope of appeal.” The bill strips the legislative branch of government of any oversight over disappearances ordained by an imperial presidency. According to The Times, All Mr. Bush would have to do to lock anyone up forever is to declare him [sic.] an illegal combatant . . .” With the elimination of Habeas Corpus, the Times points out, the disappeared “would lose the basic right to challenge their imprisonment.”
And while in prison, the Quisling Act allows for the disappeared to be tortured and gives the Bush administration the legal authority to decide what does and does not constitute torture, while drawing the line only at rape, murder, waterboarding and a few other of the more vile acts American interrogators have recently been accused of. Of course, if someone else, say the “democratic” government of Iraq, waterboards a prisoner, the Quisling Act states that any testimony obtained can be used as evidence in American courts. The bill doesn’t specifically mention beating detainees with pikes, stretching them on racks, or feeding them to lions – so the ultimate determination as to whether those forms of interrogation would be prohibited lies with the imperial president.
A Law to Negate the Rule of Law
The Quisling Act brings the US into uncharted legal territory. It essence, it is a law to negate the rule of law. According to legal scholars, the Bush administration can designate US citizens as enemy combatants using purposely vague guidelines under which someone can be disappeared for lending an undefined sort of material aid to a group or person unilaterally determined by the Bush administration to fall under the “terrorism” rubric. The Bush administration can also determine someone to be an enemy combatant for “purposefully and materially supporting hostilities against the United States.” Of course, this term is not defined. And if you are disappeared for allegedly providing such support, you will not have the right to argue that you didn’t.
It gets worse. Recent laws have attempted to define terrorism in corporate friendly terms so that anyone protesting against commercial activities could be designated a terrorist. Utah, for example, passed a “commercial terrorism” bill that identified anyone picketing a business with the intent of discouraging people from entering it, as engaging in terrorism. Under this law, for instance, the now celebrated 1960 sit-in at a segregated North Carolina Woolworth’s lunch counter would be considered terrorism. If that law and the new Quisling Act were in place in 1960, the four black civil rights heroes who demanded their right to be served lunch along with white patrons would have simply been disappeared off to gulags.
A federal court struck down Utah’s law in 2001 and many people are certain that the Supreme Court will strike down the Quisling Act. But, in case you haven’t noticed, the courts are a changing. The Supreme Court has nine members. Four of them, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Bush appointees Chief Justice John Roberts and Samuel Alito, have already shown themselves to line up with the Bush junta even when this meant undermining the rule of law. One more Bush appointee, and this could happen if the Republicans retain control of the Senate, and the Supreme Court could swing to becoming a 5-4 rubber stamp for whatever insanity the Bush administration sends their way.
So lets go back and revisit what constitutes a terrorist supporter – someone who, under the laws passed this week, can be disappeared into a system of secret Gulags. Journalist Robert Parry points out that in a recent speech given by George W. Bush in the lead-up to the fifth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, he blamed the Russian revolution and the rise of the Nazis on the fact that no one took out Lenin when he first stated publishing pamphlets on communism, or Hitler, when he first started writing about Nazism.
Hence, it appears, Bush is now advocating preemptive strikes against speech – what Parry calls, the end of free speech and free thought. According to Parry, Bush’s fantasy of “wiping out some future Lenin or Hitler would require killing or imprisoning anyone who wrote about political change in a way that rulers considered objectionable at that time.” Such “predictive assassination,” Parry argues, might kill, along with a Hitler or a Lenin, a Mandela or a Jefferson.
And if you’re wondering who the new targets for predictive assassination might be, you don’t have to look too far. In the same September 5 th speech (available at whitehouse.gov), Bush warns that intelligence evidence shows “al Qaeda intends to [launch], in [bin Laden’s] words, ‘a media campaign to create a wedge between the American people and their government.’" Bush goes on to explain that such a campaign would paint the War on Terror as causing financial losses and casualties, ultimately, with the aim of – and he explains that these are bin Laden’s words – "creating pressure from the American people on the American government to stop their campaign against Afghanistan."
Duck and Cover
Get it. It’s the free press, reporting ridiculous notions about the costs of war, and perhaps its ineffectiveness at making us safer from anything, that are out there supporting hostilities against the United States by spreading what Bush deems as al Qaeda propaganda – or more accurately, by reporting the news of the day. How much more clear does the writing on the wall have to be? Why were we supposed to think it was a joke when Bush, early in his judicially imposed presidency, said that things would be a lot easier if this was a dictatorship, as long as he was the dictator.
The Quisling Act isn’t about locking up terrorists. We’ve always done that. It’s about locking up innocent people. People who can’t be convicted of a crime because there’s no evidence that they committed a crime. This is the only new class of people who will be detained under this new law – people who were never, nor would they likely ever be, convicted of a crime. This is a bill about locking up innocent people and terrorizing the population by holding the threat of disappearance and torture over our heads.
The Senate approved the Quisling Act 65-34, with 12 Democrats joining in with an almost unanimous pack of Republicans. The Congress approved it 250-170, with 34 Democrats supporting the Republican mob. Among them was Buffalo’s own Brian Higgins. Shame on us.
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