The Day Freedom Died
Yesterday, President Bush passed the Military Tribunal Bill that set aside the Constitutional guarantee of habeas corpus for a large number of residents of the United States and anyone who might be in transit by air at a US airport. It puts at risk 12 million illegal aliens and legal alien residents of the United States who could be deemed by the executive branch of the government as "illegal enemy combatants". (a broad concept that now includes those who might intentionally or unintentionally assist "an enemy combatant.") With the loss of the Constitutional guarantee of habeas corpus these people cannot appeal to the courts for a ruling on the legal basis of their arrest and imprisonment. New take on old right of habeas corpus
In effect, there are now two classes of residents of the United States according to their constitutional rights: citizens, (unless a President declares them illegal enemy combatants and strips them of their citizenship) and non-citizens.
I lived for 10 years in the United States, during which I was politically active. I was a legal resident alien (a non citizen who has a visa to work and live in the US. ) I acted as if I was a citizen. As a minister of a very Liberal church I saw it as my religious responsibility as their minister to speak out and be active on social and political issues. Some of my actions, no doubt, displeased elements in agencies of the government. I was involved with a group of clergymen who referred women for abortions before they were legal in the US. I spoke out and organized protests against the War in Vietnam. Likewise, I was involved in the civil rights movement. I supported the local chapter of the Black Panther Party in New Haven. I even publically support a Communist Party candidate for Congress. Such activities were widespread and acceptable in liberal New England. I was never arrested or even interviewed by anyone in authority. But I know the FBI and the New Haven police had me under surveillance. (Years later I was part of a group that successfully sued the New Haven police for illegally wiretapping our telephones.) I know I had an FBI file as there officials openly took our pictures as we attended legal public meetings against the war). I now believe I was protected by the Constitution.
I used to worry that as a non-citizen that I had no right to be so political. Whenever I asked, friends insisted I had all the protections of the Constitution. "ALL men are created equal."
How I admire the United States as a land that defended all men and were are beacon for freedom. An example, for the whole world. No I didn't think it was a perfect country or I would not have been joining the struggles for change. BUT, I knew it was a "work in process" and people of conscience and conviction could bring about constructive change. If by chance I was arrested to suffer nothing more than being deported.
If this new law is allowed to stand, the United States will have differentiated itself from the civilized community of Nations that believe in the rule of law with its cornerstone, habeas corpus. I expect the Supreme Court will ultimately declare the law unconstitutional. Even the current conservative court should defend the integrity of the Constitution.
In the mean time, the Executive Branch of the government, has the power of an absolute Monarch. It alone can deny a person the rights of habeas corpus. It reserves for itself the right to define "illegal enemy combatant". It also can justify its action on the basis of self incriminating evidence extracted by torture. There are not the usual rights of appeal from the decision of a military tribunal. In effect, the President can deem a person, citizen or non citizen, as an illegal enemy combatant (now expanded to include fellow travellers), have them arrested and held indefinitely unless the defendant can prove they are not an enemy combatant.
Living in the United States , as I did years ago, must be very different. This law must make non citizens in particular very uneasy. It no doubt will have a chilling effect on their participation in activities that are legal fo citizens.
The crack in the Liberty Bell surely has become symbolic of this legal fracture of the United States. One can only hope that the Great Republic can recover from this attack on the Constitution and once again gain its great vision as a beacon for freedom and the rule of law around the world.
George Bush is asking Americans to "Trust me!" I can't believe the majority of Americans trust him any more. I am sure many American residents feel less secure in their person and no longer believe in the US "All men are created equal."
I grieve for my American neighbours and must now pressure the Canadian government to get special agreements and assurances from the US for the protection of Canadian citizens living in the US or just travelling through a US airport.