The United States has once again declared war, but this time it is a war on basic human rights.
The Bush administration has been fighting for the power to lock people up indefinitely simply on the nod of the president. The assurance that harsh treatment is reserved only for “terrorists” is meaningless when the process for determining who is a terrorist depends on the sole discretion of the executive. Strong constitutional procedures must be enforced through all three branches of government or basic human rights can not prevail.
Unfortunately, basic human rights deniers scored a disturbing victory on July 18, when a federal appeals court ruled that Ali al-Marri would likely continue his seven and a half year wait without ever having had the chance to defend himself. Now that the designation “enemy combatant,” applies to someone held inside the United States who was denied basic human rights, and that treatment is now unchallenged by US courts, the chilling implication is that the ruling may not only apply to foreign nationals, but to US citizens as well.
Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote, “Our colleagues hold that the president can order the military to seize from his home and indefinitely detain anyone in this country — including an American citizen — even though he has never affiliated with an enemy nation, fought alongside any nation’s armed forces, or borne arms against the United States anywhere in the world.”
Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, a citizen of Qatar was legally residing in the United States as a student at Bradley University. He was initially arrested in December 2001 in his home in Peoria, Ill. for allegedly opening bank accounts with inadequate or forged identity documents. A year and a half following his arrest, yet just one month before his scheduled hearing, all charges were dropped. But before al-Marri was set free — in fact later the same day the charges were dropped — President Bush classified al-Marri as an unlawful enemy combatant. That was June 23, 2003. He was then transferred under the exclusive control of the United States military to the Naval Consolidated Brig in Charleston, South Carolina for detention and questioning. Thus, right before his trial — based on the unilateral order of the President – Bush removed al-Marri from the jurisdiction of a court that recognised the US Constitution as the Supreme Law of the Land — and placed him under the jurisdiction of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals which just so happens to be friendly to the executive branch.
On US mainland soil, al-Marri was kept in solitary confinement, denied all contact with the outside world, denied council, not charged with any crime, and given no opportunity to prove his innocence.
Congress endorsed this behavior by passing the Military Commissions Act of 2006 which among many other things, gave the power over an unlawful enemy combatant’s life or death to “no fewer than three officers.”
One month after the legislation passed, the U.S. Department of Justice asserted that al-Marri should be tried in a military tribunal as an enemy combatant rather than in a civilian court stating, “The Military Commissions Act of 2006, which took effect on October 17, 2006, removes federal court jurisdiction over pending and future habeas corpus actions … determined by the United States to be enemy combatants, such as al- Marri…”
“All laws which are repugnant to the Constitution are null and void”
Marbury vs. Madison
Unfortunately, the United States Central District Court of Illinois “regretfully” agreed with the Justice Department and denied their court’s jurisdiction over al-Marri (although he was arrested while in that district and living with his wife and five children).
“An unconstitutional act is not law…it is…inoperative as though it had never been passed.”
Norton vs. Shelby County
So while al-Marri languished in a North Carolina brig, the United States Court of Appeals (also in Illinois) did rule it had the authority to remove President Bush as a defendant in the case involving al-Marri’s treatment. The irony is that the court gave the Commander-in-Chief immunity from any complaints of al-Marri’s treatment which Bush ultimately signed and authorized. The Court defended its decision with the most outrageous statement, “Suits contesting actions of the executive branch should be brought against the President’s subordinates.”
The First Amendment to the Constitution specifically prohibits Congress from abridging “the right of the people … to petition the Government for redress of grievances.” Yet Congress passed the law which enabled the executive branch to deny al-Marri the basic Writ of Habeas Corpus, the judicial branch likewise abrogating their authority to ensure basic human rights to al-Marri and further forgave Bush’s involvement—without al-Marri ever being heard in court to contest his charges.
As the branches of our own government unite to choke our Constitution’s ability to provide our basic human rights, we the people continue to deny that the war on our rights is raging.
If a president ever wants to round up Americans on vague charges and detain them indefinitely, the al-Marri ruling gives Bush a “two thumbs up, way up!” signal with absolutely no accountability. The rest of us would be wise to hear this as the very loud tocsin of human rights that it is.
…The CIA used an alternative set of procedures [which] were designed to be safe, to comply with our laws, our Constitution and our treaty obligations. I cannot describe the specific methods used…But I can say …they were safe.
President George W. Bush, September 6, 2006
That was said with a straight face more than two years after the Abu Ghraib scandal broke, which repeatedly flashed the corpse of Manadel al-Jamadi packed in ice as the backdrop of two proud U.S. Army Specialists with their two thumbs up, way up!
According to the coroner’s report, al-Jamadi had been beaten, crucified and suffered broken ribs which ultimately led to his cause of death by suffocation. Of course, in a country that “doesn’t torture” it only stands to reason that crucifiction is now officially “safe!” The administration’s defense was to chalk it up to “just a few bad apples.” This explanation obviously omitted the fact that the fruit of the executive branch was the first to contaminate the barrel — providing enhanced interrogation manuals and professional advise to their offspring who were trained and ordered to rot.
As is common in the biggest “mistakes” in United States history (most of which have happened in the past seven and a half years), the platoon of Navy SEALS who were told to abuse prisoners including al-Jamadi, received administrative punishment while their commanding officer, Lieutenant Andrew Kedford, was acquitted of all charges including assault, dereliction of duty, and conduct unbecoming an officer. Likewise, Mark Swanner, the CIA interrogator of al-Jamadi faced no charges and Thomas Pappas, the most senior officer present was granted immunity.
“Since [September 11th, the war on terror] changed, I think, from a war for the country’s security, to a battle for the country’s soul. And we have to really think about whether or not this is what kind of country we want to be.” said Jane Mayer, author of The Dark Side: The Inside Story of How the War on Terror Turned Into a War on American Ideals.
Mayer said the title was inspired by a comment aired on Meet the Press shortly after the September 11th attacks:
“We have to work the dark side, if you will. We’re going to spend time in the shadows in the intelligence world. A lot of what needs to be done here will have to be done quietly, without any discussion, using sources and methods that are available to our intelligence agencies.”
Vice President Dick Cheney
Unfortunately, a US court has recognized the torture of al-Marri here on American soil was legal. This ruling gives the “decider” sweeping powers to deny anyone — citizens as well as non-citizens —basic human rights and empowers our government to send any of us forever into …the dark side.
Al-Marri’s lawyers will appeal the decision to the Supreme Court where Justices will review the Supreme Law of the Land. It will then be up to “no fewer than [seven] officers” to determine whether people like Will, You, Marri [and] me can actually have the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.