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Rights

Originally published at BunkBlog. You can comment here or there.

One of my coworkers was bemoaning the proposal to restore habeas corpus rights to the suspects in Guantanamo.  I tried to get him to understand that the rule of law is dependent on treating everyone, friend or foe, as a human being with certain inalienable rights.  That phrase may be in some document you’ve heard of but probably never read completely.

Anyway, I just don’t get it.  There are so many people who seem to think that, just because someone has been apprehended and stored in the extra-national prison in Gitmo, they are automatically evil and their life is forfeit.  Since when did accusation equal conviction?  How can allowing them a day in court in any way weaken our national strength or safety?

Just as popular speech doesn’t need protection, but only the unpopular speech, so too do obviously innocent people not need their rights protected as strongly as the suspicious ones.  Nobody would be able to get away with randomly throwing people into prison, one would hope.  But, if the selection wasn’t random, but instead fit in with preconceived notions of what a bad guy looked like, or where a bad guy lived, or what religion a bad guy held…all bets are off.  Making decisions based on emotion rather than on evidence and facts leads to a very slippery slope.  Of course, maybe this is all a vast conspiracy, and someone has been looking at ways of converting a democracy into an authoritarian dictatorship.  Hint: look in Austrian history in the 1930s, or Zimbabwe today.

Comments

( 4 comments — Leave a comment )
(Deleted comment)
andysocial
Sep. 18th, 2007 03:07 pm (UTC)
I know you're not.

There has been ample time to try people in military courts, and yet...

Also, the fact that we came up with the Gitmo prison is troubling as a precedent. We went out of our way to create an area to hold people that was outside the USA, therefore not subject to our laws, and not in any other country that was subject to any other laws.

I have no doubt that the vast majority of the people in Gitmo are bad guys who intend us harm. A friend worked there for a while, and I don't dispute our intentions, in general. Hell, I've spent my entire life associated with the military, I'm obviously no anti-American zealot.

That pro-American view is why I find our intentional denial of trials and normal civilized procedures to be troubling. If we can't try these chuckleheads, our case is too weak and they should be released. If we can try them, we should. To deny access to any legal recourse, and leave them in legal limbo for years is to invite questions about our intentions as a country. We stand for something. We have always stood for something. I hate to see it tarnished, even slightly.
theonides
Sep. 18th, 2007 03:31 pm (UTC)
I'm not interested in a flame war, so I'm not commenting directly to your commenter above, but I want to know where in the Constitution does it say it only applies to American citizens? The Constitution applies to the government with respect to ALL people with whom it deals. I'd also like to know what part of "inalienable rights" implies that it means only US citizens. This doesn't make any sense to me. If we have evidence against someone, we put them on trial. If we don't have evidence, we stalk them for a while until they do something stupid. That's the tried and true method, and it works pretty well. Ever since 9/11, people have been reacting far more emotionally and much less rationally, and it's frankly scary. People do a lot of stupid things when they are less than rational.
andysocial
Sep. 18th, 2007 03:44 pm (UTC)
Alberto Gonzalez made that proclamation, although many legal scholars debate it. His rationale was that the Constitution didn't explicitly state that habeas corpus applies to any non-citizen. Of course, it also doesn't explicitly state that it doesn't apply, but he didn't mention that part.
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.

Pretty unambiguous, when read in the context of the common law historical precedent of habeas corpus throughout English and Colonial rule.
Furthermore, saying that habeas corpus doesn't apply to some specific group but then giving them no other recourse to a court system is akin to the Disappeared of Argentina. Bad precedent, no matter how honorable of an intention is behind it (debatable in itself).
theonides
Sep. 18th, 2007 04:27 pm (UTC)
It reminds me of an episode of the West Wing, where the President is interviewing this guy for a Supreme Court justice, and it's discovered at the last minute that he doesn't believe there is a right to privacy because it isn't specifically listed in the Constitution. Bartlett quotes to him the conclusion of the young state of Georgia from the debate on the Bill of Rights, that some fool will say that if the right isn't listed in the Constitution, it doesn't exist. (Naturally, the guy was replaced with someone more worthy.)

Alberto Gonzales has a lot of weird ideas about the Constitution, most of them leading directly to the theory of the Unitary Executive, which is scary enough, and directly contrary to the will of the Founders for checks and balances. So, just about any legal theory he comes up with should be considered automatically suspicious at best, and downright treasonous at worst.

What worries me is that people have been hearing these claims for so many years now, that like religious believers, they will begin to believe just because it's been repeated so often. Just like Iraq=al Qaeda.
( 4 comments — Leave a comment )