Giving credit where it’s due, Chris Powell, who is the managing editor of the Manchester, Connecticut, Journal Inquirer, wrote an op-ed piece in our local newspaper titled “Suspend Habeas Corpus and Enact Martial Law?”
We read the piece with alarm, and wondered why this seemed to be something we missed. We shouldn’t have, nor should you.
Mr. Powell writes that the Senate this month approved a military appropriations bill empowering the government to designate any US citizen within the country a terrorist, and to have the military hold him indefinitely without trial and without the right to habeas corpus, the right to be brought before a court for a judgment on the legality of one’s imprisonment. He states simply that in effect the legislation is a declaration of martial law throughout the country.
Further Mr. Powell notes that ordinarily liberalDemocraats, who might be expected to shout the loudest at this desecration of our Bill of Rights, are signing onto this bill and expect it to be approved because — and here is the kicker — the bill contains billions of dollars worth of new and continuing defense construction jobs for our state.
Which is to say we’re trading away our freedom for the right to make a living.
It is always possible when raising a hue and cry to overstate a case in order to shock one’s listeners or readers into action.
Having read the bill, we believe Mr. Powell has NOT done this.
Let him speak for himself.
“The Constitution prohibits suspension of the right of habeas corpus ‘unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.’ While Habeas Corpus was suspended in certain circumstances curing the Civil War, there is no rebellion or invasion now and no impairment of the criminal-justice system, and the mere danger of terrorism does not constitute rebellion or invasion.”
He goes on. “President Obama is threatening to veto the legislation, but not so much for its suspension of habeas corpus. Rather, the bill is objectionable to the president because it would prevent the government from transferring terrorism suspects from the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to installations in the United States, even for trial.”
Mr. Powell writes: “If the bill becomes law, the president and his successors will gain dictatorial power, the power exercised by the worst tyrants in history — Hitler, Stalin, and Mao — the power to kidnap anyone off the street or out of his own home and lock him away incommunicado forever. The president will be able to do that even to members of Congress themselves, and while it would suit them right for enacting such an abomination, Americans better rise up and stop it if they don’t want the country to slip into totalitarianism.”
There are more recent examples of this abuse of power than the ones Mr. Powell mentions. Remember the thousands of Argentinians and Chileans who “disappeared” over the oceans during times of martial law decreed by military juntas?
Even as you hear this, look to your right, for example, if you’re driving with a friend in your car — or just across your kitchen table if you and your spouse are having early morning coffee — and imagine him or her simply disappearing from your life and company forever. Nothing you can do will ever free them or bring them back. They have been selected by a power unknown even to themselves as a threat to what we would naturally call national security.
After 9/11, Congress felt compelled to protect the nation from ever again going through such a disaster, and immediately laws were formulated and many enacted that circumscribed how Americans citizens should behave. At the time, there was a hue and cry: should security trump freedom? What civil liberties were we giving up in the name of safety?
It’s not difficult to persuade an auditorium full of ordinarily bright and capable people to give up their rights for something they cannot imagine happening to them. In 1974, in Chicago, we were on a book tour, promoting a political novel set in the future. We took the libertyof rewriting 8 of the 10 provisions of the US Bill of Rights so that everyone in the audience would understand what they promised. And then we asked, article by article, which ones were thought to be important enough to keep, important enough to fight for.
If the people we addressed could not imagine themselves outside the law, they were perfectly willing to forego that particular provision. If, for example, they felt completely innocent of ever carrying contraband of any sort in their cars, they were willing to let the search and seizure provision of the Constitution go by the boards. It wasn’t their problem.
In this case, since most of us can’t imagine ourselves being a threat to our own country, chances are we too will allow martial law to be thusly enacted and our very own safety imperiled just because we can’t believe something like this could ever happen to us.
Nor can we imagine that the politicians we know and love, or hate, are evil enough to institute this kind of totalitarianism. Well, they may not be, but some day perhaps one will.
What we don’t know is who put this piece of legislative terror into the appropriations bill in the first place. It could have been the White House staff and legal beagles, looking ahead. It could have been the military, seeking to make its own life easier in the future if a national emergency necessitates it. It could have been the legislators themselves, currently in or out of office, banking on the idea that sooner or later they will be in power and could use this sort of bludgeon to rule.
What we do know is that provisions in this bill are clearly unconstitutional and dangerous — for everyone.
And we also know that most Americans, busy trying to make a living, celebrating the season, politicking, watching Reality Shows or simply the Yule Log burning on their television screens, are unaware of what’s going on here.
So at year’s end, because of this proposed time-bomb ticking under the budgetary proposals for a safer Defense Department, we all have one task. Getting the word out about this and what it could mean to us all.
That means giving up the 24-hour news cycle on cable which focuses unrelentingly on the sensational (which, let’s be fair, this is), and reading instead your local newspapers and national magazines. The Times, the Journal, the Sun-Times, the St. Petersburg Times, the Washington Post, the LosAngeles Times, and most importantly your local smaller newspapers in Kansas City and Des Moines and Peoria and Manchester, New Hampshire, all of whom should be on this like a blanket.
And our special thanks to Chris Powell and the Lakeville Journal who brought the future into our own small, quiet backyard and left us suspicious and fearful and determined, as well.