What does it mean to be a civilized people?
There are laws that represent an Enlightened Age and, conversely, there are laws that represent a Dark Age. Today, our Congress has abolished, in Molly Ivins’ words, “a safeguard against illegal imprisonment that has endured as a cornerstone of legal justice since the Magna Carta,” and replaced it with barbaric laws. With a single vote, they’ve done away with a humane, civil right: the right to know what charges detainees’ have been accused of and the detainees’ right to challenge those accusations in a court of law. The traditional saying is every person has a right to a trial, a right to confront his/her accuser and to challenge the accusations. It is a profound safeguard to protect the innocent.
These humane laws that characterize a civilized nation have been usurped by a medieval oligarch: According to the new archaic law, George W. Bush determines the final fate of detainees, many of whom were innocent Afghani farmers, caught in the wrong place at the wrong time. That fate is cruel and unusual. No presumption of innocence. The punishment is either life in prison or death.
Once detainees are brought under U.S. jurisdiction, our constitutional rights should apply like a beacon to the world, demonstrating that we are a civilized people. And if they don’t, will U.S. citizens also be subject to the same fate? We cannot simply excuse this barbaric legislation on the bias that it is “them and not us.” Habeas corpus is a self-evident right, an apriori right recognized, universally, by rational thinkers from Plato to Rousseau, from Locke to Jefferson, from Lincoln to Martin Luther King.
Bush’s and his supporters’ message to the world is: The hell with rational and just laws. Saddam had it right: Rule with an Iron Hand.
As a Democrat, I felt obligated to call the twelve Democratic Senators who approved of the Bush administration’s archaic detainee bill. The medieval law bars “suspects from challenging their detention or treatment through traditional habeas corpus petitions. They allow prosecutors, under certain conditions, to use evidence collected through hearsay or coercion to seek criminal convictions.” (Washington Post)
Eleven staff members were cordial and several admitted that I was not the only caller. There were a few who seemed to be agreeing by voice acknowledgement, but were duty-bound to their Senators. All staff members politely listened to my objections except for one: when I called Senator Salazar’s (D-CO) office, I was met with an insolent reply: that if I was not a constituent, Salazar was not interested in hearing my criticisms. Before I had a chance to voice my complaint, the staff member cut me off. He told me to call my own Senators (Boxer and Feinstein). I calmly responded, “They would never have voted for such a disgraceful bill.” He rudely snapped, “Good. Go congratulate them.” Then, slam! He hung up on me. As soon as he heard the words, “detainee bill” – he refused to listen.
Republicans, the Party that traditionally supported individual and state rights, (hence the true meaning of conservative), relinquished their traditional principles for corporate sponsorship. Some Democrats are equally corrupt, approving a rogue bill for short-term political and corporate gain. Despite their reasons, it’s unconscionable. Congress has a moral and ethical duty to protect and uphold our Constitution. They are not supposed to give their allegiance to a single man or administration, especially when that man believes that he’s the Ruler of the World.
Bush uses the terms, “security and defense,” as an excuse to abolish our fundamental freedoms, but security and defense means protecting the public’s welfare and health. This administration has stubbornly eliminated as many safeguard health and environmental protection laws as possible. If they cared so much about protecting us, why are they systematically shredding health/environmental laws?
“This is going to be a long war,” said Senator Warner. That’s right, a long war that lines the pockets of the weapon contractors, Halliburton and the oil corporations with no end in sight. They could care less about defending Americans. Doesn’t Katrina speak volumes to that evidence? Clearly, history reveals that we’re living in the Dark Ages.
Jacqueline Marcus’ (firstname.lastname@example.org) editorials and letters have appeared in the Washington Post, Salon, Slate, New Times, (San Luis Obispo, CA Cover story: “The Politics of Restraint”). Her poems have appeared in national university journals, The Kenyon Review, The Ohio Review, The Antioch Review and many more periodicals. Her book of poems, Close to the Shore, was published by Michigan State University Press. She teaches philosophy at Cuesta College and is the editor of ForPoetry.com