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October 23, 2006

Trading Liberty For Safety

"Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety,
deserve neither Liberty nor Safety" - Benjamin Franklin

The response was predictable. After sending our alert last Thursday regarding the passing of the Military Commissions Act, we received a flood of email. Many were supportive, but others took exception:

"Don't you care that terrorists want to kill us?"
"Olbermann's obviously a left-wing nut who wants conservatives out of power."
"The act isn't that bad..."

It is bemusing to watch certain conservatives -- conservatives who once screamed that Bill Clinton was going to suspend the Constitution, establish martial law, and put Americans in concentration camps -- blithely justify the actions of a president who appears to be doing just that. A president who once reportedly stated that the Constitution is "just a [expletive] piece of paper."

"Stroke of the pen, law of the land. Kinda cool." (1)

Remember that phrase? When Clinton advisor Paul Bengala spoke those prophetic words, conservatives were justifiably outraged. How DARE the president unilaterally overturn the Constitution of the United States! He has no right! What hubris! Yet Bush's repeated infringements are quietly excused as "necessary," and those who oppose him are demonized as "liberal nuts" or "terrorist-lovers." Just as those who opposed Clinton's treachery were demonized as part of a "vast right-wing conspiracy."

"Bush won't misuse it. It'll only be used on terrorists," states one writer.

Okay, let's pretend that's true (historical evidence to the contrary). In the early 1930's, in response to a recent crime wave, the right-of-center Weimar Republic passed several "vital, necessary" laws registering firearms and prohibiting Gypsies from owning them. Five years later, a left-of-center leader was in power and used those same laws, amending them as needed, to consolidate his power. The result was World War II and the murder of millions of what the US might today refer to as "unlawful enemy combatants."

Writes Joe Wolverton II:

"Those who fail to see the dire gravity of this legislation and who prefer to take refuge in the naive partisan belief that President Bush and the Republican Congress would never abuse this tremendous power, should contemplate well the fact that both the White House and Congress may very possibly change to Democrat control in the near future. Then will the supporters of the Bush administration's grasp for power have a leg to stand on to even protest, let alone stop, dictatorial exercise of the same power under a Democrat regime run by Clinton, Feinstein, Boxer, Pelosi, Schumer, and the like?" (2)

Like most of this administration's recent legislation and "signing statements," the MCA is a knee-jerk reaction, a product of short-term thinking that will inevitably be used for evil, just as the "vital, necessary" laws of the Weimar Republic were.

"Olbermann's a liberal shill," writes another apologist.

Again, we'll assume that's an accurate statement. But what difference does it make? Many notable conservatives (who truly understand what "conservative" means) have stated the same.

*In addressing the issue before a Senate committee, Brigadier General James C. Walker, Staff Judge Advocate General (JAG) for the Marine Corps, said: "I'm not aware of any situation in the world where there is a system of jurisprudence that is recognized by civilized people, where an individual can be tried without, and convicted without seeing the evidence against him. And I don't think the United States needs to become first in that scenario." (3)

* Referring to the new law's provision that a detainee is not allowed to see the evidence presented against him, Rear Admiral Bruce E. MacDonald, the Navy's top lawyer, stated: "I can't imagine any military judge believing that an accused has had a full and fair hearing if all the government's evidence that was introduced was all classified and the accused was not able to see any of it." (4)

* The Air Force's chief lawyer, Major General Jack Rives declared that the commissions established by the act do "not comport with my ideas of due process." (5) (One wonders why -- if this is the _Military_ Commissions Act -- the military is plainly none too happy with it?)

* Jim Bovard, author of the anti-Clinton book _Feeling Your Pain_ , wrote a scathing commentary on the MCA, as well as the mainstream yawn it engendered (6).

* So did the ultra-conservative magazine _The New American_, which states, "The Military Commissions Act of 2006 allows the executive branch to circumvent the Constitution, endangering the due process of law for all Americans, not just terrorists." (7).

* Arlen Specter (R) stated of the MCA, "I'm not going to support a bill that's blatantly unconstitutional . . . that suspends a right that goes back to 1215..." (8)

* Even the platform of the Constitution Party -- hardly a hotbed of liberal ideology -- states "We deplore and vigorously oppose legislation and executive action, that deprive the people of their rights secured under the Fourth and Fifth Amendments under the guise of "combating terrorism" or "protecting national security." (9)

People often make the mistake of assuming that JPFO is a conservative organization because of our support of the Second Amendment. Not so; we're very much beyond that. JPFO is _absolutely_ committed to the Bill of Rights. We have no sacred cows, no party line to follow. Our only criteria is "Does this infringe on the Bill of Rights?" If it does, we react negatively, regardless of who is doing it. Keith Olbermann is not our source -- the law is our source. And this law clearly, unequivocably violates the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights.

"You want to protect terrorists!"

Wrong. We want to protect people accused of terrorism (that whole unfashionable "innocent until proven guilty" thing). People have been unjustly accused by our government before, after all (check out the John Glover case on our website (10)). If the accused are indeed guilty, then punish them appropriately. But everyone deserves the basic right to defend himself in court...not to be locked away in a gulag under some specious accusation.

"The removal of Habeas Corpus only applies to aliens."

True, as far as it goes. Now what happens if you're picked up as an "alien"? You can't prove otherwise because without the right of Habeas Corpus, you cannot demand to go to court to make your case.

Or you could simply be declared a UEC, or "unlawful enemy combatant". Section 948(a) of the MCA defines "unlawful enemy combatant" as:

(i) a person who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents who is not a lawful enemy combatant (including a person who is part of the Taliban, al-Qaeda, or associated forces); or (ii) a person who, before, on, or after the date of the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, has been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal or another competent tribunal established under the authority of the president or the secretary of defense. (11)

Note that this definition (much broader than previously-used definitions) contains NO exception for American citizens. And the Second Circuit Court of Appeals previously upheld the UEC label as meaning you are no longer under the protection of the Bill of Rights (12). All the government would have to do at your habeas corpus hearing is provide some evidence that you have engaged in some act of terrorism (maybe you donated to an organization "suspected of terrorist ties"...).

Jacob Hornberger -- another conservative -- points out:

"How does an American who is labeled an enemy combatant ultimately get tried? Answer: he doesn’t. Under the Military Commissions Act, trial by military tribunal is limited to foreigners. So, even though Americans still have the use of habeas corpus (so far) to test whether their detention is lawful, if the Supreme Court ultimately upholds the “unlawful enemy combatant” designation for people accused of terrorism, Americans will be returned to indefinite military custody as “unlawful enemy combatants” if the government has provided some evidence of terrorism at the habeas corpus hearing." (13)

"At least Bush lets us keep our guns."

The purpose of the Second Amendment is to ensure that people have the ability to overthrow a government that has become tyrannical. The fact remains that all firearms permitted in the US must meet the "sporting purpose" definition. Not all are well-suited for fighting a standing army. Further, guns do little good when you cheerily applaud the tyrant or make excuses for him. Guns, after all, were prevalent in Iraq under Saddam Hussein.

The painful reality is that both parties have been betraying us for years. They do not respect the Constitution, nor do they respect our basic rights. Conservatives who excuse Bush's actions have been duped into remaining loyal to the ideal of conservatism even as it is twisted into a nearly-unrecognizable mockery of itself by the Bush administration.

A true conservative would say, "WRONG IS WRONG, no matter who is doing it. And destroying our freedoms -- for any reason -- is WRONG. I don't care who's doing it, this is immoral and illegal. I'm not going to follow the party line if it goes against everything I believe."

Perhaps the saddest, most telling comment comes from a writer who states:

"Arab and Iranian Muslims must be exterminated. Any law that remotely points in that direction is good. That you and the U.S. Government coddle Muslim scum is an insult to civilization."

Does anyone fail to see the parallel between 1930's Germany and our present society within this statement? To write such a hate-filled declaration to a Jewish civil rights organization -- one fully aware of the dangers of broadly damning an entire race or religion and advocating their "extermination" -- is breathtaking in its audacity. That the writer is willing -- nay, eager -- to give up his own freedoms and liberty to further such a goal is perhaps saddest of all.

In closing, we offer this challenge: send us a link to a video or thoughtful article that supports the Military Commissions Act as legitimate and Constitutional. We'll put it up, and let our readers decide.

- The Liberty Crew

(3) ibid
(4) ibid
(5) ibid
(13) ibid

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