William Rivers Pitt: In Case I Disappear


Richard Moore

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    In Case I Disappear
    By William Rivers Pitt
    t r u t h o u t | Perspective
    Friday 29 September 2006

I have been told a thousand times at least, in the years I have spent reporting 
on the astonishing and repugnant abuses, lies and failures of the Bush 
administration, to watch my back. "Be careful," people always tell me. "These 
people are capable of anything. Stay off small planes, make sure you aren't 
being followed." A running joke between my mother and me is that she has a "safe
room" set up for me in her cabin in the woods, in the event I have to flee 
because of something I wrote or said.

I always laughed and shook my head whenever I heard this stuff. Extreme paranoia
wrapped in the tinfoil of conspiracy, I thought. This is still America, and 
these Bush fools will soon pass into history, I thought. I am a citizen, and the
First Amendment hasn't yet been red-lined, I thought.

    Matters are different now.

It seems, perhaps, that the people who warned me were not so paranoid. It seems,
perhaps, that I was not paranoid enough. Legislation passed by the Republican 
House and Senate, legislation now marching up to the Republican White House for 
signature, has shattered a number of bedrock legal protections for suspects, 
prisoners, and pretty much anyone else George W. Bush deems to be an enemy.

So much of this legislation is wretched on the surface. Habeas corpus has been 
suspended for detainees suspected of terrorism or of aiding terrorism, so the 
Magna Carta-era rule that a person can face his accusers is now gone. Once a 
suspect has been thrown into prison, he does not have the right to a trial by 
his peers. Suspects cannot even stand in representation of themselves, another 
ancient protection, but must accept a military lawyer as their defender.

Illegally-obtained evidence can be used against suspects, whether that illegal 
evidence was gathered abroad or right here at home. To my way of thinking, this 
pretty much eradicates our security in persons, houses, papers, and effects, as 
stated in the Fourth Amendment, against illegal searches and seizures.

Speaking of collecting evidence, the torture of suspects and detainees has been 
broadly protected by this new legislation. While it tries to delineate what is 
and is not acceptable treatment of detainees, in the end, it gives George W. 
Bush the final word on what constitutes torture. US officials who use cruel, 
inhumane or degrading treatment to extract information from detainees are now 
shielded from prosecution.

It was two Supreme Court decisions, Hamdi v. Rumsfeld and Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, 
that compelled the creation of this legislation. The Hamdi decision held that a 
prisoner has the right of habeas corpus, and can challenge his detention before 
an impartial judge. The Hamdan decision held that the military commissions set 
up to try detainees violated both the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the 
Geneva Conventions.

In short, the Supreme Court wiped out virtually every legal argument the Bush 
administration put forth to defend its extraordinary and dangerous behavior. The
passage of this legislation came after a scramble by Republicans to paper over 
the torture and murder of a number of detainees. As columnist Molly Ivins wrote 
on Wednesday, "Of the over 700 prisoners sent to Gitmo, only 10 have ever been 
formally charged with anything. Among other things, this bill is a CYA for 
torture of the innocent that has already taken place."

It seems almost certain that, at some point, the Supreme Court will hear a case 
to challenge the legality of this legislation, but even this is questionable. If
a detainee is not allowed access to a fair trial or to the evidence against him,
how can he bring a legal challenge to a court? The legislation, in anticipation 
of court challenges like Hamdi and Hamdan, even includes severe restrictions on 
judicial review over the legislation itself.

The Republicans in Congress have managed, at the behest of Mr. Bush, to draft a 
bill that all but erases the judicial branch of the government. Time will tell 
whether this aspect, along with all the others, will withstand legal challenges.
If such a challenge comes, it will take time, and meanwhile there is this bill. 
All of the above is deplorable on its face, indefensible in a nation that prides
itself on Constitutional rights, protections and the rule of law.

    Underneath all this, however, is where the paranoia sets in.

Underneath all this is the definition of "enemy combatant" that has been 
established by this legislation. An "enemy combatant" is now no longer just 
someone captured "during an armed conflict" against our forces. Thanks to this 
legislation, George W. Bush is now able to designate as an "enemy combatant" 
anyone who has "purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the 
United States."

Consider that language a moment. "Purposefully and materially supported 
hostilities against the United States" is in the eye of the beholder, and this 
administration has proven itself to be astonishingly impatient with criticism of
any kind. The broad powers given to Bush by this legislation allow him to 
capture, indefinitely detain, and refuse a hearing to any American citizen who 
speaks out against Iraq or any other part of the so-called "War on Terror."

If you write a letter to the editor attacking Bush, you could be deemed as 
purposefully and materially supporting hostilities against the United States. If
you organize or join a public demonstration against Iraq, or against the 
administration, the same designation could befall you. One dark-comedy aspect of
the legislation is that senators or House members who publicly disagree with 
Bush, criticize him, or organize investigations into his dealings could be 
placed under the same designation. In effect, Congress just gave Bush the power 
to lock them up.

By writing this essay, I could be deemed an "enemy combatant." It's that simple,
and very soon, it will be the law. I always laughed when people told me to be 
careful. I'm not laughing anymore.

In case I disappear, remember this. America is an idea, a dream, and that is 
all. We have borders and armies and citizens and commerce and industry, but all 
this merely makes us like every other nation on this Earth. What separates us is
the idea, the simple idea, that life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness are 
our organizing principles. We can think as we please, speak as we please, write 
as we please, worship as we please, go where we please. We are protected from 
the kinds of tyranny that inspired our creation as a nation in the first place.

That was the idea. That was the dream. It may all be over now, but once upon a 
time, it existed. No good idea ever truly dies. The dream was here, and so was 
I, and so were you.

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