Favorite

One justice away from tyranny 

It is somehow supposed to be amazing that five justices of the U.S. Supreme Court last week did not scuttle 793 years of precedent and affirm that President George W. Bush could ignore the Constitution if it suited him.

It should have been amazing that four justices were willing to do exactly that: scrap the ancient right of habeas corpus and let Bush do whatever he wanted to hundreds of men who were swept up by bounty hunters, vigilantes and American agents in Europe and the Middle East in the year or so after 9/11 and against whom in most cases little evidence of terrorist activity against the United States has ever been found.

The court ruled for the second time that the men who have been held and sometimes tortured at Guantanamo Naval Base could challenge their detention and force the government to state its case against them in federal court under a writ of habeas corpus, which is guaranteed by the Constitution to anyone held by a government of the United States and which has been the bedrock right of western civilization since King John signed the Magna Carta at Runnymede June 15, 1215.

Bush long maintained that the prisoners could be held without charges, counsel or contact with anyone in the outside world for the rest of their lives because they were neither criminals under U. S. law nor prisoners of war, either of which would have vouchsafed them some legal rights. The government created a new category called “enemy combatants” and put them in concentration camps at Guantanamo on the theory that in Cuba neither international nor U. S. law could reach them even though the U.S. leased the territory.

The cry has been that the liberal Supreme Court has spun out of control in its concern for the rights of a band of evil Muslims. It was the second time that the court invoked habeas corpus against Bush, this time striking down the act that the administration threw together to try to revoke the court's authority to defend the Constitution. The attacks on the old (pre-Bush) Republicans on the court who delivered the opinion says much about how far from the equilibrium American opinion has drifted in the hysteria over terrorism. Only the Libertarian Party has consistently protested the destruction of civil liberties.

In Great Britain, by comparison, the old Conservative Party of Winston Churchill and Margaret Thatcher is denouncing Prime Minister Gordon Brown's attempt to empower the government to detain suspected terrorists for up to 42 days before charging them. (It can detain them now for only 28 days.) The former Tory prime minister, John Major, himself the target of a terrorist assassination plot in 1991, wrote an op-ed for the Times of London this month saying that the infringement upon habeas corpus, the Bush-like surveillance schemes and Britain's participation with America in the “rendition” of prisoners to safe havens for torture eroded basic Western liberties and the British reputation in the world. He said those actions were “hardly in the spirit of the nation that gave the world Magna Carta, or the Parliament that gave it habeas corpus.”

Parliament gave average people habeas corpus and other rights (basically the 4th through the 8th amendments in the U.S. Constitution) after a 17th century version of George Bush, King Charles I, insisted on his right to imprison anyone he liked without charges “per speciale Mandatum Domini Regis” — because he was in charge.

King George III had to get a special act of Parliament so he could suspend habeas corpus briefly and detain Napoleon long enough after the emperor's surrender at Waterloo to get him exiled to a distant island. Talk about a dangerous unlawful combatant.

Chief Justice John Roberts and the other dissenters offered the theory that insisting on the rights of Guantanamo detainees was much ado about very little. It was another way of saying, who should care about a bunch of scruffy Muslims who may not share our values and could, after all, be bent on doing Americans harm? The justices' world-lit teachers never made them read “The Prisoner of Chillon” or “The Ballad of Reading Gaol.”

A few of the men at Guantanamo may actually have connived to harm Americans, but whoever they are and however they fell into U. S. custody all of them are strategically important for the president, or at least he thinks they are. They are about all that the administration has to show for the promise to bring to justice Osama bin Laden and the others responsible for 9/11. Having to show what, if anything, the government has on them would finally unravel the administration's claim that at least in this one field, national security, it was competent.

You can look at the court's decision another way, which is that we are only one Supreme Court justice away from, in John Major's description, real tyranny. Sen. John McCain says as president he would appoint justices exactly like Bush's two. Based on his past opposition to torture and Guantanamo, he's probably lying about that, although he joined Bush in denouncing the habeas decision. It is nevertheless a risk worth avoiding.

Favorite

From the ArkTimes store

Comments

Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

More by Ernest Dumas

  • Real reform

    Arkansas voters, once perversely skeptical of complicated ballot issues like constitutional amendments, have become almost comical Pollyannas, ratifying the most shocking laws.
    • May 25, 2017
  • Goodbye, Mr. Trump

    It is hard to escape the feeling that the fortunes of President Trump and the country took a decisive, and for Trump a fatal, turn May 9-10, when the president fired the director of the FBI over its investigation of Russian efforts to swing the presidential election to him and the very next day shared top-secret intelligence with Russian officials in an Oval Office meeting closed except to a Kremlin press aide toting electronic gear to capture the intimate session for Russians but not Americans.
    • May 18, 2017
  • McCain is right

    Who knew that the crusty old warmonger John McCain was both an earnest and eloquent defender of human rights, a cause that is in what we hope is only a momentary decline here and around the world?
    • May 11, 2017
  • More »

Readers also liked…

  • Guns, God and gays

    Many more mass shootings like the one last week in Roseburg, Ore., will stain the future and no law will pass that might reduce the carnage. That is not a prediction but a fact of life that is immune even to Hillary Clinton.
    • Oct 8, 2015
  • AEC dumps ALEC

    No matter which side of the battle over global warming you're on, that was blockbuster news last week. No, not the signing of the climate-change treaty that commits all of Earth's 195 nations to lowering their greenhouse-gas emissions and slowing the heating of the planet, but American Electric Power's announcement that it would no longer underwrite efforts to block renewable energy or federal smokestack controls in the United States.
    • Dec 17, 2015
  • No tax help for Trump

    The big conundrum is supposed to be why Donald Trump does so well among white working-class people, particularly men, who do not have a college education.
    • Aug 11, 2016

Most Shared

  • Raw feelings in the Arkansas Justice Building over workload, pay

    Strained relations between the Arkansas Supreme Court and the Arkansas Court of Appeals broke into public view this week. I expect more to come.
  • Virgil, quick come see

    There goes the Robert E. Lee. But the sentiment that built the monument? It's far from gone.
  • Real reform

    Arkansas voters, once perversely skeptical of complicated ballot issues like constitutional amendments, have become almost comical Pollyannas, ratifying the most shocking laws.
  • Conspiracy theorists

    Back in 2000, I interviewed Rev. Jerry Falwell on camera in connection with a documentary film of "The Hunting of the President," which Joe Conason and I wrote.

Latest in Ernest Dumas

  • Real reform

    Arkansas voters, once perversely skeptical of complicated ballot issues like constitutional amendments, have become almost comical Pollyannas, ratifying the most shocking laws.
    • May 25, 2017
  • Goodbye, Mr. Trump

    It is hard to escape the feeling that the fortunes of President Trump and the country took a decisive, and for Trump a fatal, turn May 9-10, when the president fired the director of the FBI over its investigation of Russian efforts to swing the presidential election to him and the very next day shared top-secret intelligence with Russian officials in an Oval Office meeting closed except to a Kremlin press aide toting electronic gear to capture the intimate session for Russians but not Americans.
    • May 18, 2017
  • McCain is right

    Who knew that the crusty old warmonger John McCain was both an earnest and eloquent defender of human rights, a cause that is in what we hope is only a momentary decline here and around the world?
    • May 11, 2017
  • More »

Visit Arkansas

Paddling the Fourche Creek Urban Water Trail

Paddling the Fourche Creek Urban Water Trail

Underutilized waterway is a hidden gem in urban Little Rock

Event Calendar

« »

May

S M T W T F S
  1 2 3 4 5 6
7 8 9 10 11 12 13
14 15 16 17 18 19 20
21 22 23 24 25 26 27
28 29 30 31  

Most Viewed

  • Real reform

    Arkansas voters, once perversely skeptical of complicated ballot issues like constitutional amendments, have become almost comical Pollyannas, ratifying the most shocking laws.
  • Conspiracy theorists

    Back in 2000, I interviewed Rev. Jerry Falwell on camera in connection with a documentary film of "The Hunting of the President," which Joe Conason and I wrote.
  • Virgil, quick come see

    There goes the Robert E. Lee. But the sentiment that built the monument? It's far from gone.
  • Not leaders

    As soon as I saw the Notre Dame graduates walking out of their own commencement ceremony as Vice President Mike Pence began to speak, I thought, "Oh no, here we go again."

Most Recent Comments

  • Re: Conspiracy theorists

    • Here's the conspiracy Gene Lyons knows is true: Trump conspired with the Russians - criminally…

    • on May 24, 2017
  • Re: Trump unfit

    • And now, although it is probably too late on this feed - the horrible bomber…

    • on May 24, 2017
  • Re: Trump unfit

    • Sorry, sorry - I mis-spoke or mis-wrote - the ACTUAL headline on the article was…

    • on May 23, 2017
 

© 2017 Arkansas Times | 201 East Markham, Suite 200, Little Rock, AR 72201
Powered by Foundation