… you will serve your enemies whom the LORD will send against you. You will be left hungry, thirsty, naked, and lacking in everything. The LORD will put an iron yoke on your neck, oppressing you harshly until he has destroyed you…
Can Congress Steal Your Constitutional Freedoms?
By Andrew P. Napolitano
Can the president use the military to arrest anyone he wants, keep that person away from a judge and jury, and lock him up for as long as he wants? In the Senate’s dark and terrifying vision of the Constitution, he can.
Congress is supposed to work in public. That requirement is in the Constitution. It is there because the folks who wrote the Constitution had suffered long and hard under the British Privy Council, a secret group that advised the king and ran his government. We know from the now-defunct supercommittee, and other times when Congress has locked its doors, that government loves secrecy and hates transparency. Transparency forces the government to answer to us. Secrecy lets it steal our liberty and our property behind our backs.
Last week, while our minds were on family and turkey and football, the Senate Armed Services Committee decided to meet in secret. So, behind closed doors, it drafted an amendment to a bill appropriating money for the Pentagon. The amendment would permit the president to use the military for law enforcement purposes in the United States. This, of course, would present a radical departure from any use to which the military has been put in the memory of any Americans now living.
The last time the federal government regularly used the military for domestic law enforcement was at the end of Reconstruction in the South, in 1876. In fact, the deal to end Reconstruction resulted in the enactment of federal laws forbidding the domestic use of American military for law enforcement purposes. This has been our law, our custom and our set of values to which every president has adhered for 135 years.
It is not for directing traffic that this legislation would authorize the president to use the military. Essentially, this legislation would enable the president to divert from the criminal justice system, and thus to divert from the protections of the Constitution, any person he pleases. And that person, under this terrifying bill, would have no recourse to a judge to require the president either to file charges against him or to set him free.
Can you imagine an America in which you could lose all liberty – from the presumption of innocence to the right to counsel to fairness from the government to a jury trial – simply because the president says you are dangerous?
Nothing terrified or animated the Founders more than that. The Founders, who wrote the Constitution, had just won a war against a king who had less power than this legislation will give to the president. But to protect their freedoms, they wrote in the Constitution the now iconic guarantee of due process. The Fifth Amendment to the Constitution says, “No person shall be … deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law.” Note, the Founders used the word “person.” Thus, the requirement of due process must be accorded to all human beings held by the government – not just Americans, not just nice people, but all persons. When Lincoln tried to deny this during the Civil War, the Supreme Court rejected him and held that the Constitution guarantees its protections to everyone that the government restrains, no matter the crime, no matter the charge, no matter the evidence, no matter the danger.
If this legislation becomes law, it will be dangerous for anyone to be right when the government is wrong. It will be dangerous for all of us. Just consider what any president could get away with. Who would he make disappear first? Might it be his political opponents? Might it be you?
December 2, 2011
Andrew P. Napolitano [send him mail], a former judge of the Superior Court of New Jersey, is the senior judicial analyst at the Fox News Channel, and the host of “FreedomWatch” on the Fox Business Network. His latest book is It is Dangerous to be Right When the Government is Wrong: The Case for Personal Freedom.
Update… Hypocrisy, right to public trial by jury struck down…
Military given go-ahead to detain US terrorist suspects without trial
Chris McGreal in Washington guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 14 December 2011 23.34 EST
Civil rights groups dismayed as Barack Obama abandons commitment to veto new security law contained in defence bill
Barack Obama has abandoned a commitment to veto a new security law that allows the military to indefinitely detain without trial American terrorism suspects arrested on US soil who could then be shipped to Guantánamo Bay.
Human rights groups accused the president of deserting his principles and disregarding the long-established principle that the military is not used in domestic policing. The legislation has also been strongly criticised by libertarians on the right angered at the stripping of individual rights for the duration of “a war that appears to have no end”.
The law, contained in the defence authorisation bill that funds the US military, effectively extends the battlefield in the “war on terror” to the US and applies the established principle that combatants in any war are subject to military detention.
The legislation’s supporters in Congress say it simply codifies existing practice, such as the indefinite detention of alleged terrorists at Guantánamo Bay. But the law’s critics describe it as a draconian piece of legislation that extends the reach of detention without trial to include US citizens arrested in their own country.
“It’s something so radical that it would have been considered crazy had it been pushed by the Bush administration,” said Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch. “It establishes precisely the kind of system that the United States has consistently urged other countries not to adopt. At a time when the United States is urging Egypt, for example, to scrap its emergency law and military courts, this is not consistent.”
There was heated debate in both houses of Congress on the legislation, requiring that suspects with links to Islamist foreign terrorist organisations arrested in the US, who were previously held by the FBI or other civilian law enforcement agencies, now be handed to the military and held indefinitely without trial.
The law applies to anyone “who was a part of or substantially supported al-Qaida, the Taliban or associated forces”.
Senator Lindsey Graham said the extraordinary measures were necessary because terrorism suspects were wholly different to regular criminals.
“We’re facing an enemy, not a common criminal organisation, who will do anything and everything possible to destroy our way of life,” he said. “When you join al-Qaida you haven’t joined the mafia, you haven’t joined a gang. You’ve joined people who are bent on our destruction and who are a military threat.”
Other senators supported the new powers on the grounds that al-Qaida was fighting a war inside the US and that its followers should be treated as combatants, not civilians with constitutional protections.
But another conservative senator, Rand Paul, a strong libertarian, has said “detaining citizens without a court trial is not American” and that if the law passes “the terrorists have won”.
“We’re talking about American citizens who can be taken from the United States and sent to a camp at Guantánamo Bay and held indefinitely. It puts every single citizen American at risk,” he said. “Really, what security does this indefinite detention of Americans give us? The first and flawed premise, both here and in the badly named Patriot Act, is that our pre-9/11 police powers were insufficient to stop terrorism. This is simply not borne out by the facts.”
Paul was backed by Senator Dianne Feinstein.
“Congress is essentially authorising the indefinite imprisonment of American citizens, without charge,” she said. “We are not a nation that locks up its citizens without charge.”
Paul said there were already strong laws against support for terrorist groups. He noted that the definition of a terrorism suspect under existing legislation was so broad that millions of Americans could fall within it.
“There are laws on the books now that characterise who might be a terrorist: someone missing fingers on their hands is a suspect according to the department of justice. Someone who has guns, someone who has ammunition that is weatherproofed, someone who has more than seven days of food in their house can be considered a potential terrorist,” Paul said. “If you are suspected because of these activities, do you want the government to have the ability to send you to Guantánamo Bay for indefinite detention?”
Under the legislation suspects can be held without trial “until the end of hostilities”. They will have the right to appear once a year before a committee that will decide if the detention will continue.
The Senate is expected to give final approval to the bill before the end of the week. It will then go to the president, who previously said he would block the legislation not on moral grounds but because it would “cause confusion” in the intelligence community and encroached on his own powers.
But on Wednesday the White House said Obama had lifted the threat of a veto after changes to the law giving the president greater discretion to prevent individuals from being handed to the military.
Critics accused the president of caving in again to pressure from some Republicans on a counter-terrorism issue for fear of being painted in next year’s election campaign as weak and of failing to defend America.
Human Rights Watch said that by signing the bill Obama would go down in history as the president who enshrined indefinite detention without trial in US law.
“The paradigm of the war on terror has advanced so far in people’s minds that this has to appear more normal than it actually is,” Malinowski said. “It wasn’t asked for by any of the agencies on the frontlines in the fight against terrorism in the United States. It breaks with over 200 years of tradition in America against using the military in domestic affairs.”
In fact, the heads of several security agencies, including the FBI, CIA, the director of national intelligence and the attorney general objected to the legislation. The Pentagon also said it was against the bill.
The FBI director, Robert Mueller, said he feared the law could compromise the bureau’s ability to investigate terrorism because it would be more complicated to win co-operation from suspects held by the military.
“The possibility looms that we will lose opportunities to obtain co-operation from the persons in the past that we’ve been fairly successful in gaining,” he told Congress.
Civil liberties groups say the FBI and federal courts have dealt with more than 400 alleged terrorism cases, including the successful prosecutions of Richard Reid, the “shoe bomber”, Umar Farouk, the “underwear bomber”, and Faisal Shahzad, the “Times Square bomber”.
Elements of the law are so legally confusing, as well as being constitutionally questionable, that any detentions are almost certain to be challenged all the way to the supreme court.
Malinowski said “vague language” was deliberately included in the bill in order to get it passed. “The very lack of clarity is itself a problem. If people are confused about what it means, if people disagree about what it means, that in and of itself makes it bad law,” he said.
II Corinthians 3:17
… Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty…
… But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it…