As I Please

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Reflections on the Military Commissions Act

For those who have not yet viewed the three videos posted last Saturday, that is the name of the Act, passed by Congress and signed into law (Oct. 17) by Pres. George W. Bush, that ends the right to habeas corpus for non-citizens in the U.S. but allows for that nullification to be extended to U.S. citizens if they are judged as "enemy combatants" by the President. So what exactly does this mean? According to the Wikipedia article on this subject:
"Under the MCA, the law restricts habeas appeals for only those detained as enemy combatants, or awaiting such determination. Left unchanged is the provision that, after such determination is made, it is subject to appeal in U.S. Court, including a review of whether the evidence warrants the determination. If the status is upheld, then their imprisonment is deemed lawful; if not, then the government can change the prisoner's status to something else, at which point the habeas restrictions no longer apply.
There is, however, no legal time limit which would force the government to provide a Combatant Status Review Tribunal hearing. Prisoners are legally prohibited from petitioning any court for any reason before a CSRT hearing takes place. It has been pointed out that the government can thus detain any noncitizen for any length of time, without habeas or any other appeal, by delaying the CSRT hearing indefinitely."
With this Act, Bush's power and neoconservative dominance in the U.S. has probably reached its apogee if, as appears to be the case, the Democrats regain a majority in the House of Representatives if not the Senate as well on Nov. 7. This Act marks the first time in U.S. history that habeas corpus has been suspended by Washington nationally, rather than only applied in some states or parts of states, as happened under Lincoln (Maryland and parts of midwestern states) and Grant (nine counties in South Carolina). Those two previous actions were arguably more justified (not to say justified) in that Lincoln was dealing during a time of civil war with riots, local militia actions, and the threat that the border slave state of Maryland would secede from the Union, leaving the nation's capital surrounded by hostile territory, and Grant's move was part of federal civil rights action against the Ku Klux Klan (a domestic terrorist organization if there ever was one) under the 1870 Force Act and 1871 Ku Klux Klan Act. Both involved cases of insurrection and therefore the threat of domestic rebellion, one of only two grounds for the suspension of habeas corpus under the U.S. constitution, the other being invasion. While the threat of terrorism is real, it is neither rebellion nor invasion. The Ku Klux Klan was once referred to as the "Invisible Empire" because of its secret power structure, and so it seems that label can be attached to Al Qaeda, not in the sense of its actual nature but in the sense of the way it is depicted by Bush, Blair and their allies, giving a rather loosely joined, decentralized organization the dimensions of SPECTRE (the 'T' stands for terrorism) in the James Bond films. As an invisible empire, it can be portrayed as operating anywhere and everywhere and capable of striking at anytime, and so it follows from that premise that the geographic scope of the suspension of habeas corpus in the U.S. is justifiable, but that does not answer the question as to whether the suspension of habeas corpus in itself is justifiable.
The Act as well as marking the greatest extension yet of Bush's power also marks the extent to which democracy has declined in the U.S. While I wouldn't call the logical destination of the current drift of U.S. federal policy a fascist America, I don't think it would be an exaggeration to say it would be something resembling Pinochet's Chile. That regime after all is the logical destination of neoconservative policy, a combination of laissez faire capitalism, courtesy of advice from Milton Friedman's Chicago School of monetarist economics i.e. the "Chicago boys", and political authoritarianism, with a degree of social hedonism permitted, but only affordable for the wealthy who either withheld criticism of the regime or actively supported it (as they still do today, acclaiming Pinochet as a hero), a class of plutocrats not too dissimilar from those in George W. Bush's America, a country that once led the industrialized world as a liberal democracy but now lags behind the rest.


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