Saturday, September 29, 2007

Our So-Called Rights

Somebody needs to tell Rush Limbaugh that the question isn't what's a "phony soldier," but what's a phony right? Does the First Amendment apply to members of our armed forces who, ironically enough, are daily risking, and losing, their lives to defend it? Do they have the right to question the moral validity, and/or efficacy of a war without having to succumb to verbal evisceration by a glib, radically right pundit? Does the provision that protects free speech apply also to college students, like the one in Florida, who get tasered for asking unorthodox questions, and daring to imply that an election was rigged, or that a sitting president deserves impeachment?

And, what about those we've captured, and detained, without charge, or access to counsel at Guantanamo Bay, and at secret prisons around the world? What "rights," if any, do they have? Yesterday, the Defense Department announced that fourteen "high value" detainees at Gitmo have been offered "the right to request lawyers," a first step in challenging their "unlawful enemy combatant" designation before the Combatant Status Review Tribunal which might itself be described as a rigged process. (WaPo)

But, be that as it may, remember that those enemy combatants who were afforded the "right" to counsel at Guantanamo, in the past, were reportedly only allowed to see a lawyer if they confessed, or admitted guilt, first. Is it any different with these fourteen terror suspects? Did they, too, have to acknowledge crimes, and/or complicity, in order to be allowed to request representation? One wonders what, besides the obvious methods of torture that have leaked out, is taking place during these interrogations that now makes these men eligible for clearing their names?

Since their capture, the fourteen detainees, as well as more than three hundred others held at the naval base at Cuba, have had access only to their captors, and an occasional visit from members of the International Red Cross which visits have been labelled classified. They are only now being allowed the right to what amounts to military personal shoppers, those who will help them through the administrative hurdles necessary to obtain due process, something that both the Constitution, and international law, has, for more than 500 years, guaranteed them, but it appears that this process is more an administrative technicality than an opportunity for genuine adjudication.

The fact that the president of the American Bar Association, whose help in representing the alleged "terrorists" has been requested by the government, has said that he doesn't want the ABA to "lend support and credibility to such an inadequate review scheme" (WaPo) is something that should not be lost on anyone who labors under the delusion that we still have rights that would be recognizable, if only adroitly, by our founding fathers.

What can be more oxymoronic than the statement by an "anonymous" official that "the goal here is to have trials open and public to the greatest extent consistent with protecting classified information." But, clearly somebody's been reading too much Kafka, or maybe not enough, or maybe Zeno's Paradox is in syndication------"open and public trials" that still protect "classified information?"

In the words of a Center for Constitutional Rights attorney who has been trying, in vain, to contact one of the detainees now allowed the "right" to request representation, for over a year, the Defense Department is trying to "put some gloss," and create the aura of legitimacy, but this is mostly lip service, and a flawed facade in light of kangaroo military tribunals, and the Pentagon's insistence that counsel get "necessary security clearance," as well as submit to a complete background check. (WaPo)

Not to put too fine a point on it, but one can't help but wonder if some in this administration, including the current commander-in-chief , were coerced to submit to a background check, if they would still be running our military. The illusory right to counsel might implode on impact were details of what was said, and what transpired, during "classified" interrogations of these detainees to mysteriously surface. How much did they have to give up, or "confess" to in order to obtain the "right" to be represented. More importantly, how far have we deviated from accepted precepts of international law that it is now considered a victory to "allow" not representation, per se, but a request for representation.

This is not an argument in favor of one like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is among this group of "high value" terror suspects. Indeed, no one can defend the indefensible. That said, the indefensible is still entitled to a defense; at least, it was under the judicial system this country has had in place for the past 200 plus years before the onset of the current constitutional revisionists who have consistently shown that justice goes to the highest bidder.

But, the larger question is why should anybody care about a bunch of illegal aliens being held without charge, indefinitely, and being subjected to "alternate interrogation techniques," by our government, which are so controversial that they are deemed classified, or secret. Along with the Bush jihad on terror comes the so-called Patriot Act which neutralizes the Fourth Amendment, as the Padilla case demonstrates, such that citizens and noncitizens alike get harassed equally, leaving us all vulnerable to being dubbed "terrorists," and held without charge indefinitely.

When those we capture and hold as our nation's enemy are compelled to complete a "Legal Representation Request" form in order to seek redress from a designation that has never been satisfactorily explained, the entire infrastructure of our criminal justice system is at stake. And, when a district judge in Portland, Ann Aiken, joins the ranks of other judges, throughout the country, in suggesting that the Patriot Act contains provisions that are unconstitutional, and that the latest revision to FISA law now enables the executive branch to "conduct surveillance and searches of Americans without satisfying the probable cause requirement of the Fourth Amendment," (AP) take heed-----you are no safer in your home, from illegal search and seizure, than any of those currently held at Guantanamo Bay, or in any secret CIA prison around the world.

What's more, those searching your person, car, and home are no more obliged to tell you why they're searching you, charge you, or provide legal proof that they have reasonable justification to secretly enter your home, and go through your things as was done to Portland attorney Brandon Mayfield who sued the federal government after being wrongfully accused of having been involved in the Madrid train bombings.

Justice has to count for something, or the study of jurisprudence is nothing more than the random collection of artifacts in the name of irrelevancy. And, as the ruling of a U.S. district judge in Oregon asserts: "For over 200 years, this Nation has adhered to the rule of law -- with unparalleled success. A shift to a Nation based on extra-constitutional authority is prohibited, as well as ill-advised." Yes, and a shift to a nation that expunges key sections of military reports which allege abuse of Iraqi citizens, and prisoners, as well as one that requires the completion of forms in order to request a right that has been guaranteed for generations is one that is unacceptable, and must be denounced by all who pledge allegiance to liberty and justice for all.

In the next fourteen months before Election Day, it is up to us to insist that each and every presidential candidate clearly state their position on what they will do about extraordinary rendition, secret CIA terror cells, "alternative interrogation techniques," what is, and is not, classifiable by government, and how they will restore the Bill of Rights, and the integrity of the our Constitution.