Wednesday, January 17, 2007


[This article originally ran in the 1.18.07 issue of Metroland Magazine]

With all the giddy hoopla about the Democratic Congress’ “first hundred hours”, with all the posturing and grandstanding about undoing the parade of horrors foisted upon us since 2000, there’s been something conspicuous by its absence. There doesn’t seem to be any great rush to restore the various civil rights that were laid to waste over the past several years.

Sure, marquee issues like the minimum wage and stem cell research are all well and good, but a number of truly startling things have happened to our most basic freedoms, and a few Democrats squawked while these things were going down. The fact may well be that the Dems don’t really care that much. Maybe they’re still afraid that Karl Rove’ll make ‘em look “soft on terror” if they stand up for basic, fundamental freedoms; maybe they think we’re too stupid to notice what we’ve lost (or maybe they realize that the lackey mainstream press hasn’t bothered to tell us what we’re lost); maybe, just maybe, in their little black politician hearts, they like things just the way they are now.

Where to start? How about federal ID cards? Heard about them? It’s kind of sneaky. In 2005, Congress passed a law that requires all states to conform their drivers’ licenses to strict uniform standards. Fair enough, but wait, there’s more! The law then says that in 2008 non-conforming drivers licenses will no longer be accepted for federal “official purposes.” And what’s an “official purpose”? Anything the Department of Homeland Security wants it to be. Transactions at federally insured banks? IDs at federally regulated airports? Yup! So, you see, it’s not mandatory that you have one of these stealth national ID cards. It’s only mandatory of you want to live like a normal modern human being.

And what’s gonna be on your card? Your basic info, plus digitized versions of your photograph and signature, and there could easily be more things like your fingerprints or retinal scans if that’s what Homeland Security wants. And all this information has to be stored by the states in readily transferable and searchable databases for at least ten years, that the states will have to share all your info with other governmental entities, no questions asked. And maybe your license will be loaded with a tiny chip, that can be read remotely by anybody with the right equipment, without you even knowing it.

So, as they say in the old movies set in Nazi-controlled Europe: Zor paypahs? You haff zor paypahs? And the really alarming thing is that you don’t have to even show them your papers. They’ll already have them.

Since the bill authorizing this was tacked onto a 2005 emergency military spending authorization bill, it sailed through the Senate 100-0 and the House 368-58. Just like that. And I don’t see anybody rushing to undo it.

And how ‘bout that habeas corpus? Latin for “you have the body”, habeas corpus represents the right to challenge imprisonment by the government. It’s one of the oldest tenets of Western law, and traditionally, countries that didn’t have it were considered barbaric and profound enemies of basic human rights. China and any of those old dictatorships in South America come to mind. You know, places were people disappear.

The United States joined the club last year when Congress passed the Military Commission Act, which allows the government to detain anyone “engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States” as determined by “tribunals” appointed by the President. Basically, the President can decide you’re a bad guy, and you can be picked up and held without charge. Indefinitely. Add to that the current regime’s enthusiastic support for torture, whether done here, at Guantanamo, or outsourced to shady governments in Eastern Europe, and you’ve got a policy paradigm that just pisses all over the United States flag.

12 Democratic Senators and 32 House members voted for this. And despite a lot of wailing and knashing of teeth when the bill originally got passed last year, I haven’t seen any effort yet to reverse this shameful and dangerous law.

The Military Commission Act is, by any rational measure, unconstitutional three or four different ways, most notably through Article 1, Section 9’s provision that “[t]he 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.” You seen any invasions or rebellions around here lately? Anybody?

So the law should be vulnerable to a constitutional challenge, except now we’re got a Supreme Court packed with Federalist Society neo-con clones. The Court today is a worse and even more disingenuous court that the one that “elected” our President in 2000 (remember that one, where the five conservatives forgot their long obsession with “states’ rights”?), so the likelihood of a reasoned and just decision on something like habeas corpus coming out of the Supreme Court would appear to be somewhere between slim and none. I do not entrust my freedom to the likes of Antonin Scalia.

So write your Representatives. Tell them you’d like our country back, please.


At 10:08 PM, Anonymous Randy Nelson said...

Ticked off and smarter than the average bear, I've said for years that we're folks without a country. It's encouraging to hear awareness with some intelligent umph behind it. "We are left to undo what's been done, removing these walls one brick by one." Great article Paul.



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