Sunday, October 08, 2006

Talkin' To The Man

Our United States Senate just voted to allow torture of prisoners. That noise you hear is coming from the East Coast. It's the remains of our Founding Fathers, spinning in their graves.

Around two hundred and thirty years ago, thirteen colonies split off from England because a group of brave men felt that their rights were not being properly represented in the government that controlled them. And they felt strongly enough about these "rights" that they put them to paper and made them the basis for a new form of government; they enshrined these words to the extent that they could, telling the world that, in this new country at least, the common man could not be unfairly treated by the government.

Now, though, because our elected representatives are too cowardly to tell a nascent dictator that torture is wrong, our government now has the right to swoop down on any person at any time and take him into custody, and that person doesn't have the right to a trial to determine whether he (or she) is guilty. No evidence needs to be presented. A person can now be arrested on no evidence, held for as long as the government deems neccessary, and no court in the land will argue that this person should be free.

The name for this particular right, by the way, is habeas corpus, and it's defined like this:
habeas corpus (hā'bē'us kôr'pus) [Lat.,=you should have the body], writ directed by a judge to some person who is detaining another, commanding him to bring the body of the person in his custody at a specified time to a specified place for a specified purpose. The writ's sole function is to release an individual from unlawful imprisonment; through this use it has come to be regarded as the great writ of liberty. The writ tests only whether a prisoner has been accorded due process, not whether he is guilty...

The term is mentioned as early as the 14th cent. in England, and was formalized in the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679. The privilege of the use of this writ as a safeguard against illegal imprisonment was highly regarded by the British colonists in America, and wrongful refusals to issue the writ were one of the grievances before the American Revolution. As a result, the Constitution of the United States provides that "The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it" (Article 1, Section 9).
Here in New Mexico, our Senators split evenly on the issue of habeas corpus. Republican Pete Domenici voted to continue shredding the Constitution and the Bill of Rights, and Democrat Jeff Bingaman voted on the side of Goodness and Light.

To Senator Bingaman, who I contacted fairly easily at, I wrote a short message of support.
For your vote against the destruction of habeus corpus, you have shown that you understand what our forefathers were trying to create in this fledgling country some 225 years ago.

You have just earned my vote, unlike your counterpart, Senator Domenici. Keep it up.

Thank you.
I spent a little more time on our other senator.

First, he doesn't support the idea of open communication. He requires that you go to his website and fill in a "contact form." (The closest he could come to demanding papers, I guess - the electronic equivalent of "Ihre papieren, bitte!")

When I finished, a little message came up on the screen. "Thank you for using our form!" I liked the exclamation point. God knows that forms should be exciting.

Incidentally, considering Domenici's apparent attitudes, if you don't hear from me for a while, it might be best to pretend you don't know me. Here's the message I sent to Pete Domenici on his exhilarating little form.
Senator Domenici,

You are a disappointment to me, sir. I did not always agree with your politics, but at some point, I felt that you might at least hold our forefathers in higher regard. Somewhere, in my twenty years in the military, I like to think that I absorbed at least a small amount of American history, and some knowledge of what it means to be an American.

You have just voted against habeas corpus. One of the central rights supported by that group of honorable men who gathered together in 1781 to create a country. You trampled it into the dirt with a simple wave of your hand and a single syllable.

Humorously enough, the front page of talks about "Celebrating the Constitution." You need to consider having your webmaster locked away for "unreasonable sarcasm."

Consider the facts. An "enemy combatant" is now defined as any non-citizen whom the president says is an enemy combatant, and he can be arrested and held for as long as authorities wish without any right of appeal to a court of law to examine the matter.

Now, suppose an American tourist in Cairo or Casablanca or Bangkok is arrested for some feebly-defined "crime against the state." At what point is that foreign government going to release our tourist? And what will they be able to do to him, legally, while they're holding him?

Or let's bring it a little closer to home. Suppose my cousin, a Special Forces corporal, is wounded during a reconnaissance near the border to Syria, and taken captive by soldiers from that country. What will happen to him?

What happened to the theory that we should treat prisoners the way we would wish to be treated?

The theory, as the president explains it, is that the terrorists wish to destroy our way of life because they "hate our freedom." So why are you giving the terrorists what they want?

If there is such a thing as a single philosophy that makes us American, it is that we are better than our enemy. Are you proud of destroying that ideal, Senator? Do you sleep better at night, having done exactly what Osama bin Laden wanted?

Is that the action of a hero? Is the act of capitulation considered brave in these dark days? You were a lawyer once. What is the definition of "precedent" again?

So keep it in mind. "Good Americans" aren't in danger, are they? Just the Jews, the gypsies and the homosexuals. And anyone declared by our Leader as being an "enemy of the state."

You have just lost any chance of my voting for you ever again, sir. I only vote for people who can show that they understand the American ideal. People who oppose tyranny.

I only vote for real Americans.
It didn't do a damned bit of good. Although, within 24 hours, he sent me a form letter thanking me for contacting him. That made me feel all warm and cozy.

November can't come too soon. Let's vote these bastards out.