October 2006 Newsletter

30 October 2006
A Statement on the Military Commissions Act of 2006

A congressional constitutional coma induced by presidential fearmongering and abetted by compliant media has produced the shameful Military Commissions Act of 2006. How else can we account for such acquiescence and deference toward a discredited and increasingly unpopular president when he sought unprecedented legislative confirmation of tyrannical claims to abrogate such traditions as habeas corpus, exclusion of evidence derived from torture, right to counsel, observance of the minimal standards of Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention? The Madisonian doctrine of checks and balances, based on distrust of the “good intentions” of those who govern, has been jettisoned by the very branch of government which should have stood in the way of executive dictatorship.

Let there be no mistake: unless a wavering and unpredictable Supreme Court majority overturns the crucial provisions of this frightening legislation, citizen and non-citizen alike could be at the mercy of a “trust-me” President and his minions who have already brought us the excesses of Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, and the spectre of unlimited executive power in designating “enemy combatants” deprived of all procedural rights.

Twelve million permanent residents have summarily been deprived of the habeas corpus rights which they held until Tuesday when Bush signed this alarming bill. His administration has already given notice to the District Court in Washington, D.C. that it may entertain no habeas petitions from Guantanamo detainees. And henceforward the President can determine what is forbidden torture, though the evidentiary “fruits” thereof are to be admissible in the military commissions.

Perhaps most telling are the provisions in the law which guarantee that culprits from Bush and Gonzalez on down will be free from prosecution for the criminal violations of U.S. and international law which they have already committed in the pursuit of the overblown “war on terror.”

As our elected officals (with some laudable exceptions), fail us, the burden of defence of civil liberties falls increasingly on the remaining independent institutions of civil society. The Chicago Committee to Defend the Bill of Rights will join with like-minded organizations to struggle for the cause which a supine Congress has unpardonably betrayed.

Robert Clarke, President