Erosion Of Democracy
And Freedom In America
By Stephen Lendman
04 October, 2006
December 8, 1941, President Franklin Roosevelt addressed the US Congress
the day after the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. He said that "date....will
live in infamy" because of what the naval and air forces of the
Empire of Japan did. Two and one-half months later on February 19, 1942,
FDR himself committed an infamous act signing into law Executive Order
9066 which authorized the internment of 120,000 Japanese civilians,
two-thirds of whom were US citizens. These Americans committed no crimes
and were only "guilty" of being of Japanese ancestry and thus
by presidential edict were judged potential enemies of the state. Because
of FDR's action, these otherwise ordinary peace-loving Americans lost
all their sacred constitutional protections including habeas corpus
and their rights of trial by jury and to own and keep their property.
They also lost all their other freedoms and were treated like criminals.
They were sent against their will to concentration camps where they
were interned for the duratin of the war until 1946.
It should be noted no similar
action was taken against white German Americans. It seems the Japanese
then were more guilty of their skin color and race than their country
of national origin. The US Supreme Court agreed in their 1944 landmark
Korematsu v. United States decision in which a Court majority ruled
military necessity justified their internment. Justice Frank Murphy
and two other Justices disagreed denouncing the decision. In Justice
Murphy's dissent, he said this act amounted to the "legalization
of racism." It took until 1988 for the US Congress to undue this
presidential act of infamy and High Court approval of it. It then passed
Public Law 100-383 apologizing to those internees still living and their
families, provided reparations for them (too late and far too inadequate),
and created a public education fund to "inform the public about
the internment of such individuals so as to prevent the recurrence of
any similar event (ever again)."
Dare anyone suggest members
of the 109th Congress have an immediate and urgent need for an industrial
strength dose of its own re-education program. On two late September,
2006 days of infamy, the US House and Senate passed and sent to President
Bush for his certain signature the Military Commissions Act of 2006
appropriately called "the torture authorization bill." This
clear unconstitutional act gives the administration extraordinary powers
to detain, interrogate and prosecute alleged terror suspects and anyone
thought to be their supporters. The law grants the executive branch
(specifically President Bush) the extraordinary right to label anyone
anywhere in the world an "unlawful enemy combatant" and gives
him the legal right to arrest and incarcerate them indefinitely in military
prisons. Persons liable will include anyone who even innocently contributes
financially to a charitable organization thought to be associated with
any nation or group the US believes supports terrorist or hostile actions
aginst the US. On September 27 and 28, 2006, freedom and justice effectively
died in the US, and no one will be secure anywhere in the world as long
as this act is the law of the land. One day it will be repealed - if
the republic survives long enough to do it which now is very much in
US citizens are not exempted
from this law with one important exception - for now at least. Because
of the June, 2004 Supreme Court Hamdi v. Rumsfeld decision, citizens
of this country legally still retain their legal right to file a writ
of habeas corpus if arrested and detained. This means they must be charged
with a crime, be tried and allowed the right to appeal any conviction
in a US court of law. But even this remaining right now hangs by a weak
thread as the case of Jose Padilla shows. He's a US citizen who was
seized at Chicago's O'Hare Airport having no weapons, declared an "enemy
combatant" and held in military confinement with no ability to
challenge his confinement in court. The Supreme Court refused to hear
his case effectively giving the president the power to seize other citizens,
subject them to the same abuse with no redress and thereby neutralize
anyone's habeas rights.
But it may get even worse
than that if, or more likely when, another major "terrorist"
attack occurs on US soil, which some experts believe is a certainty.
Congress could then suspend habeas rights for everyone or the president
could do it by executive order in the name of national security. If
it happens, democracy will likely give way to martial law, the suspension
of the constitution, and echos of Benjamin Franklin's words at the close
of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 will be heard. At that time,
he reportedly said in answer to whether the nation now had a republic
or a monarchy: "A republic, if you can keep it." We hardly
need wonder what he'd say today.
Provisions in the
Military Commissions Act
Some of the key elements
of the Military Commissions Act are as follows:
-- It annuls the right of
habeas corpus for all non-US citizens and applies it retroactively to
all current detainees at Guantanamo and elsewhere. Article 1, Section
9 of the US Constitution specifically says: "The Privilege of the
Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of
Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it." This provision
is now constitutionally null and void for all non-US citizens and nearly
so for those of us who are.
-- It empowers the president
with authority to decide what constitutes torture, effectively legalizing
this act of barbarism henceforth against any detainee anywhere including
-- It grants US officials,
including CIA operatives, retroactive immunity from prosecution for
having authorized the use of torture or directly committed acts of it.
-- It prohibits detainees
from invoking the protections of the Geneva Conventions or using them
in any US court. These conventions are binding international laws and
thus the supreme law of the land. No longer with the passage of this
-- It gives the chief executive
authority to interpret and apply the Geneva Conventions according to
his sole judgment.
-- It grants the president
the right to convene military commissions to try "unlawful enemy
combatants" and gives the chief executive broad latitude to decide
on his sole authority whomever he wishes to so-designate and for whatever
-- It allows civilians to
be tried by military commissions and not in a civilian court of law
and limits the rights of detainees to be represented by the counsel
of their choice.
-- It allows no guarantee
trials will be conducted within a reasonable time.
-- In violation of binding
international law, it permits torture-extracted evidence to be used
against the accused in a trial.
-- It allows the use of classified
evidence to be used but not to be made available to be challenged by
-- It permits hearsay evidence
and coerced testimony to be used.
-- It allows military commissions
to impose death sentences.
-- It allows indefinite and
On September 21, 2001, Amnesty
International faxed a letter to George Bush in the aftermath of the
9/11 attack. It urged the president to respect human rights and the
rule of law in whatever response was to be undertaken. Specifically
it said: "In the wake of a crime of such magnitude, principled
leadership becomes crucial....We urge you to lead your government to
take every necessary human rights precaution in the pursuit of justice."
Five years later, Amnesty concluded "its appeal fell on deaf ears.
The past five years have seen the USA engage in systematic violations
of international law, with a distressing impact on thousands of detainees
and their families." Amnesty cited the following violations:
-- secret detentions
-- enforced disappearances
-- the use of torture and
other cruel and degrading treatment
-- outrages of personal dignity
including humiliating treatment
-- denial of habeas rights
-- indefinite detentions
without charges or trials
-- prolonged detentions incommunicado
-- arbitrary detention
-- unfair trial procedures
Amnesty accused the Bush
administration of hypocrisy saying that while claiming the US is a "nation
of laws" adhering to the "rule of law," it practices
the very policies it condemns. It said this administration's "interpretation
of the law has been driven by its policy choices rather than a credible
postulation of its legal obligations." It cynically interprets
US and international law any way it chooses and as such acts outrageously
and in contempt of all legal standards and norms. Amnesty also stated
that by having passed the Military Commissions Act, the Congress has
allowed thousands of detainees to remain in indefinite detention without
charge or trial and to be legally subjected to the worst kinds of abuses.
It said "Congress has failed these detainees and their families.
Those defending human rights should be prepared for a long struggle."
The Long Struggle
to Save the Republic Has Begun
By its legislative action
prior to recessing for the November congressional elections, the 109th
Congress will forever live in infamy. It shamelessly sunk to its lowest
yet depths in pledging its fealty to a morally depraved president who
believes no one has the right to challenge his authority, champions
the use of torture, defies constitutional and international laws and
norms, (law or no law) conducts secret surveillance through warrentless
wiretaps or any other means, and believes dissent is an act of terrorism.
In brazen defiance of over 200 years of governance under the rule of
constitutional law, this Congress and president have made a mockery
of every norm and standard the Founders stood for and handed down to
us for posterity - if we could keep it.
By their actions, this body
has shaken the very foundation of the republic. It gave the president
near-unlimited authority to act as he chooses in the name of national
security as he defines it. It simply means the rule of law effectively
has been abolished and ordinary people no longer have constitutionally
protected rights. For now, US citizens still have the right of habeas
corpus, but it, too, may be taken from us in the name of national security.
How low we've now sunk in coming so far.
In his 1935 novel, It Can't
Happen Here, Sinclair Lewis showed it most certainly can happen here.
He wrote about a charismatic senator who becomes president, claims to
be a reformer and a champion of the common man. It's all cover to hide
his alliance with the corporate interests of his day and the support
of religious extremists he appeals to. Instead of serving the people
he denies them their rights. He then takes full advantage of the Great
Depression economic crisis to support a strong military and pass unconstitutional
laws during a national emergency. He further convenes military tribunals
for civilians and calls dissenters unpatriotic and even traitors. Sound
Anyone reading this book
will be scared wondering if it really can happen here. Anyone living
in the surreal age of George Bush and his out-of-control extremist neocon
administration knows it already has, and we haven't yet found a way
to stop it. This is no time for complacency. We are all now "enemy
Stephen Lendman lives
in Chicago and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Also visit his blog site at sjlendman.blogspot.com.
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