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A Grave Assault on the Constitution
Published on Thursday, November 15, 2001 in The Progressive
A Grave Assault on the Constitution
by Matthew Rothschild
George W. Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft are ripping away at the fabric of our democracy.

They are sending our civil liberties, which are the hallmark of this nation, down the river.

And they are destroying our storied system of checks and balances.

Here are some of the frightening features so far:

The detention of more than 1,000 immigrants, without releasing their names to the public.

The decision to round up 5,000 more legal immigrants, under what the history books will surely call the Ashcroft Raids.

The evisceration of the Fourth Amendment, so much so that the police no longer will need to show you a warrant to enter your home; they can even sneak in when you're not there and neglect to tell you about it.

For prisoners, it's even grimmer. Ashcroft says prosecutors can now listen in to the hitherto privileged conversations that prisoners have with their lawyers. Beyond that, Ashcroft has prevented some prisoners from even talking to their lawyers--this, according to a story by Anne-Marie Cusac in the December issue of The Progressive.

And now, most ominously, George W. Bush has unilaterally granted to himself and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld the power to prosecute terrorists under secret military tribunals, either here or abroad.

Bush signed the far-reaching military order on November 13, and The New York Times published a copy of it the next day.

It is one of the scariest documents I've ever read.

According to the order, Bush can label any person who is not a citizen of the United States a terrorist. He can then have the Pentagon haul this alleged terrorist before a secret military tribunal.

The Secretary of Defense gets to designate where the trial will take place, "outside or within the United States."

The Secretary of the Defense also sets the rules for the trial, including "modes of proof."

Any evidence can be introduced that has "probative value to a reasonable person." It's conceivable that such evidence could include hearsay and confessions extracted under duress.

The Secretary of Defense also decides upon "qualifications of attorneys," so defendants may not have lawyers of their choosing.

Conviction and sentencing require not unanimity of the military judges but "two-thirds of the commission present at the time of the vote, a majority being present."

The sentence can include "life imprisonment or death."

There appears to be no appeal process. "Submission of the record of the trial, including any conviction or sentence, for review and final decision by me or by the Secretary of Defense if so designated by me for that purpose," the order said. "Me" means Bush. 

This is how Peru works, not the United States!

The military order mocks our judicial system. And it raises the prospect of the President or the Secretary of Defense seizing any person who is not a U.S. citizen anywhere in the world and dragging that person into kangaroo court.

In such a manner, Bush and Rumsfeld could become globe-trotting executioners.

Amnesty International says this new order "violates fundamental principles of justice in any circumstances, including in times of war," and is contrary to the Geneva Convention.

Are we going to sit still for this?

Bush's military order of November 13 is one of the gravest threats ever to our system of justice.

Let's use our voices to protest--while we still can.

Copyright 2001 The Progressive, Madison, WI


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