On Oct. 17, the Military Commissions Act was signed in to law by President George W. Bush, leader of the free world – or rather, now, leader of the not-so-free world. This may seem an overly dramatic, sensationalized opinion to some, but is it really? Let’s examine.
The new law claims to create a process that is tough on terrorists while still preserving the principles of justice that this country is built on. It gives the president and his administration the power they need in order to rid this country of all possible terrorists and keep us citizens safe from such threats. In doing so, however, Bush and his administration seem to have forgotten that what makes our judicial system what it is not its ability to deliver a swift punishment for the guilty, but rather, its ability to protect the innocent against all costs.
In case you are not familiar with the writ of Habeus Corpus, it’s that little thing you learned about in 8th grade social studies that has given citizens of this country the right to seek release from unlawful imprisonment for much of the past few centuries. Sounds pretty nice, right? There is a reason those old guys specifically mentioned it in our Constitution centuries ago. In other words, Habeus Corpus is a fundamental instrument we have in protecting our individual freedom from being persecuted by arbitrary state action. In the Military Commissions Act, this right is all but thrown out the window.
Under the law, any non-citizen determined to be an “enemy combatant” can be detained without the right of Habeus Corpus. And what, exactly, is an “enemy combatant?” Whatever the president wants it to be, essentially.
It is unlikely that you or anyone you know will be directly affected by this law, but that is beside the point. Acts like these can create a snowball effect; anybody remember the PATRIOT Act? The Military Commissions Act is merely a progression of the erosion of our liberty that started with that law in 2001, and the trend shows no signs of stopping. Totalitarian governments don’t happen overnight, they happen as governments gain power over individuals over years and years, often right under the people’s very noses. This is not to say we are headed for a totalitarian government by any means – it is to say, however, that we are one step closer, and the fact that we now must put our trust in a president and his administration to not abuse our liberties is a scary one, especially considering this administration’s history.
The Military Commissions Act is a slap in the face to our centuries-old legal tradition. The Bush Administration’s story is one of ever-increasing executive power – which is regularly and brazenly abused – and threatens to do away with the system of checks and balances that are integral to our democracy. In passing the Act, Bush has allowed himself to simply sidestep the courts, even the US Supreme Court (Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, anyone?). So much for checks and balances.
Fact of the matter is, any acquiescence of basic civil rights allows room for more – so when is enough? Does it stop at arbitrary detention? Does it stop with illegal wiretaps? Does it stop with the suspension of habeas corpus? Or does it stop when the secret police break down your door to take you to Guantanamo Bay for writing pieces like this one?