Sunday, January 1, 2012

Shut Up, You Don't Get a Lawyer

The fight against terrorism is a complex and maddening battle, requiring thinking and actions that are outside of the box. In the process of that fight some things must remain sacred. First and foremost is this: In the process of fighting terrorist threats to our democracy, we must not compromise the ideals that make our democracy worth fighting for. 

When a president or any federally elected official takes office they don't take an oath to protect the flag, the national anthem, or the bible, or their ego. They take an oath to preserve and protect the Constitution and it's Bill of Rights. The ideals in their pages are what makes America America.

When we were attacked on 9-11-2001 by a handful of Saudi murderers, it could have been handled as the extraordinary international criminal matter that it was. Instead our leaders turned it into a war against nations that had nothing to do with the 9-11 crimes. Legislation was pushed through in moments of passion and anger that lessened the protections provided this nation of laws by the Constitution. These actions pushed us closer to becoming the things we profess to oppose. 

When our current president came into office, our first president who is a Constitutional scholar, I, and many others, thought that the chipping away at our Constitution would end. Terrorism is awful, but not awful enough to become something other than what we profess to be. 

When important news stories are posted on HuffingtonPost, the post is open for comments. If it is a particularly important story it might get a few hundred comments. Extraordinary stories might get one or two thousand comments. There is a story on HuffingtonPost today that has an astonishingly large number of comments (over 31,000 and counting at this writing), by far the most of any story in the history of the website.

The story is about the legislation that President Obama "reluctantly" signed, one aspect of which lets the government hold citizens indefinitely without charges, or trial, as part of the war on terror. On the surface it appears to be brazenly unconstitutional legislation, contrary to 5th, 6th, and 8th amendments to the Constitution.

Obama had to tie himself in knots to justify signing this legislation, saying he has serious reservations about provisions that are contrary to constitutional protections. He pointed out that he personally won't let the military make decisions on who to hold indefinitely, nor would he himself order anyone held without trial. Since he won't be president forever, leaving future presidents with this elephant gun against the Bill of Rights is a chilling thought. Imagine Newt Gingrich, as an example, who has publicly stated that he would have judges he disapproves of arrested, with this sort of power.

I understand that leading requires occasional compromise. But should you compromise on your most cherished ideals?

I wonder how a man who taught constitutional law at one of America's greatest universities can waiver on principles that define our republic, principles that are right in his wheelhouse. If the vast number of comments across the world wide web are any indicator, it may just be remembered as his darkest moment, one compromise too far for his legacy.

I took a lot of senators and representatives to create this bill, but Obama was the one man who could have vetoed it. He didn't.

Of course, I still plan to vote for Obama, because the alternatives are too frightening. He isn't making it easy, however.

I should note that Mother Jones magazine says that the bill isn't as bad as it seems, that it is designed to make the courts decide if the president has the authority to jail people indefinitely without charges - which seems to be splitting hairs. In any event, the author said that the bill should not have been signed.

"WASHINGTON -- Indefinite military detention of Americans became the law of the land Saturday, as President Barack Obama signed a defense bill that codified that authority, even as he said he would not use it.

Still, the signing on New Year's Eve as few people were paying attention angered civil liberties advocates, who argue that the law for the first time spells out certain measures that have not actually been tested all the way to the Supreme Court, including the possibility of detaining citizens in military custody without trial for as long as there is a war on terror.
"President Obama's action today is a blight on his legacy because he will forever be known as the president who signed indefinite detention without charge or trial into law,” said Anthony Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union.
"The statute is particularly dangerous because it has no temporal or geographic limitations, and can be used by this and future presidents to militarily detain people captured far from any battlefield," 
No matter how the White House spins this one, President Obama is responsible for signing into law a bill that gives himself and his successors the power to scoop you or your neighbor up and hold you without due process or access to a lawyer.  Republican Senator Lindsey Graham says that when an American citizen accused of terrorism asks for a lawyer they will be told to “shut up” and that, “you don’t get a lawyer.”  Signing statements aside, apparently Barack Obama agrees."

Read more:     Obama Signs Bill Despite Reservations       HuffPo
Read more:     Dismantling the Bill of Rights            Examiner
Read more:     Signing Away Moral Authority          Yes, But
Read more:     Obama Signs Defense Bill       USA Today
Read more:     What Does Defense Bill Mean?      Mother Jones