Wednesday, January 08, 2003

You have got to be kidding me.

U.S. citizens overseas who take up arms against their country can be held as enemy combatants without the constitutional rights afforded other Americans, a federal appeals court ruled Wednesday.

The decision by a three-judge panel of the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond., Va., affirms the government's authority to detain indefinitely American citizens captured in foreign battles or those who participate in terrorist attacks against U.S. interests...

...Courts, the judges ruled, must be ``highly deferential'' to the government during wartime, even an unconventional war such as that against global terrorism. Hamdi, they added, is being held under ``well-established laws and customs of war.''
What exactly are these people saying? Civil rights are important only up to the point where they might actually be inconvenient? Since when has rights that are (at least theoretically) above and beyond the privilege of governmental action something that courts should be "highly deferential" about? The point of the whole thing is not that rights should be defended when it's easy, simple, and in line with the goals of the government, but that they should be defended even when... no, especially when it's a hassle that they'd rather not have to deal with.

One of the "unconventional" aspects of the War on Terror is that it's going to last an awfully long time. No matter what you think of it, that much is inescapable; whether it's the kind of shadow war that some envision or the country-by-country conquest/liberation/whatever that hawks are calling for. It may be a war that, like the war on drugs or poverty or whatever, becomes something that never quite stops; although it rises and ebbs like a river, it will become a permanent part of the landscape. However long it lasts the country is going to be (as defined here) "in a time of war". These judges, therefore, have just given the present administration-- and God knows how many future administrations-- carte blanche to do whatever they wish to whomever they wish, as long as they are classified as an "enemy combatant", a term that in itself defined solely (and inconsistently) by the American government.

And how does the point man on this issue respond?

Attorney General John Ashcroft applauded the decision, calling it ``an important victory for the president's ability to protect the American people in times of war."
Whee. So here we have Ashcroft setting the stage for the conflict between "the people" and it's own citizens. Well, let's be honest here; when he means "the people", he doesn't actually mean the individual citizens that make up the American public, because it's their rights that are being abrogated here; there is no "ein volk" to be set against the individual in a liberal democracy like the United States. He means, of course, the administration he belongs to: one fueled by a powerful spin machine, a quiescent and cowed media, an opposition party too scared and divided to serve as an effective opposition, a war that can be (and is) endlessly exploited and redefined to suit the administration's purposes, a new (and enormous) internal security department that is entirely (and deliberately) to be staffed by the White House's political appointees, demonstrated willingness to round up people under false pretenses (or at least set in motion the events that make the roundup happen), a total willingness to use all of this for political purposes, and now the apparent right to arrest, try, and presumably punish people secretly as "enemy combatants".

The appeals court in Richmond, Va., agreed that the case raises serious questions about the rights of citizens but concluded that, in wartime, the government's authority is supreme in deciding who may be held indefinitely.
Meaning, of course, that John Ashcroft, Richard Cheney, George W. Bush and Karl Rove's authority is supreme. Also meaning that these judges appear to not have the faintest clue what the hell is meant by "government", as they happen to be a part of it... but never mind. The point is clear, and I have little doubt that this will be extended to American citizens on American soil.

By the way... for those who will inevitably snipe that "your civil rights haven't been hurt yet, and neither have mine, so why are you up in arms over this?" I have a simple quote:

"First they took the communists away...."

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