Sunday, June 17, 2007

Court Rules Against Presidents Making People Disappear

Latest Newspaper Column:

When are they going to learn?

Once again, the Bush administration has been handed a stinging defeat in its quest to establish the president's power to lock people up indefinitely without trial or even without charging them with anything.

In a 2-1 vote, the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a Qatari residing in the U.S. when arrested, could not be detained indefinitely by the military without charges. "The president," Judge Diana Gibbon Motz wrote, "lacks power to order the military to seize and indefinitely detain al-Marri. Duh."

OK, she didn't actually say "Duh." But she should have.

Of course, the so-called "liberal" media had to announce the decision with moronic headlines like this one over an Associated Press story: "Court Rules in Favor of Enemy Combatant."

How about something more accurate, like "Court Rules Against Unlimited Presidential Power?" Which is pretty much what it's about.

Al-Marri was awaiting trial for multiple crimes, including credit card fraud and lying to the FBI, when Bush signed an order, on his sole authority, that he'd "determined for the United States of America that Al-Marri is an enemy combatant," among other things.

The wheels of justice came to a screeching halt as Al-Marri was suddenly placed under the jurisdiction not of the Justice Department, but of the Pentagon, and whisked off to a Naval brig in Charleston, S.C., where he sat for four years without trial and without being charged with anything.

It wasn't until a year later that he was even accused of any specific act in aid of any enemy. And even then, all that was filed was a "declaration" by the "director of a Joint Terrorism Task Force" that claimed, without providing any backup or sources whatsoever, that Al-Marri had met Osama bin Ladin, had trained in Afghanistan, had "saved information about jihad" on his laptop computer, and committed other acts.

"Sez who?" Al-Marri asked. "Mind your own beeswax," said the government. Again, I'm paraphrasing here.

Sorry, the court said. Not good enough. "We refuse to recognize a claim to power that would so alter the constitutional foundations of our republic," the majority opinion reads. "Military control cannot subsume the rights of civilians."

And before the usual flock starts bleating in panic about "turning terrorists loose," they should read this portion of the opinion: "This does not mean that al-Marri must be set free. Like others accused of terrorist acts in this country, from the Oklahoma City bombers to the surviving conspirator of the Sept. 11 attacks, Al-Marri can be returned to civilian prosecutors, tried on criminal charges, and if convicted, punished severely."

Doggone right. Hey, if the guy's been doing what he's accused of, namely working for al-Qaeda, I don't want him turned loose, either. I want him tried, convicted and socked into jail.

But what I really don't want is for the president -- any president -- to have the power to just wave his magic pen, chant the words "enemy combatant," and make someone disappear. As the opinion says, "to sanction such presidential authority to order the military to seize and indefinitely detain civilians, even if the president calls them 'enemy combatants,' would have disastrous consequences for the Constitution -- and the country."

Let me be crystal clear here. I'm not against the idea of seizing enemy combatants. I just don't want the sole power to decide who's to be seized to be vested in one person, Republican, Democrat, or whatever.

The American system of checks and balances has worked pretty well throughout this country's long history. It's gotten us through worse wars than this one, including the Cold War, where we knew the people who hated our guts had more nukes than any bunch of raggedy terrorists could dream of having. The rule of law has experienced some hiccups and needed some corrections along the way, but there's no need to chuck it all and go running to embrace Big Brother.

Remember, Dubbya insists that the unchecked and unreviewable power to order the military to seize and detain civilians is an inherent power of the presidency. If it becomes accepted law, we're stuck with it, whoever is in the White House.

I've asked this before and I'll ask it again: Would you give the power that President Bush claims to Hillary Clinton? Oh, you think that President Clinton, or President Obama, can't happen? Two years ago, you never dreamed the Republicans would be the minority party in Congress again.

You give the power to make people disappear to King George, you give it to his successors, for as long as they want it. And they'll always want it.


Phoebe Fay said...

That's a perfectly rational argument.

Unfortunately, the people to whom you're directing it are the same ones who wanted Bill Clinton drawn and quartered for his parsing of the word "is" but who also believe Scooter Libby committed no crime and should be set free and given a pony and a parade and a medal of honor.

Logic doesn't reign in their world. The only law is, if the Republicans do it, it is right and good, and if Democrats do it, it's the work of Satan.

David Terrenoire said...

A question each and every candidate chould be asked is what they think about the theory of the unitary executive.

If they say they thinks it's a swell idea, we shoot them.

David Terrenoire said...

Note to the NSA:

That previous post was made in jest. I do not advocate shooting anyone.

And Cuba is very hot this time of year.