Friday, September 29, 2006

The day America died

Yesterday was a terrible, terrible day in American history. It was a day that may live on in infamy, a day that America, or at least an important part of her, died.

President Bush, as I have argued many times before (and most recently here) is an enabler of torturer. And now both the House and the Senate have voted to enact Bush's torture legislation. The vote in the House was 253 to 168. The vote in the Senate was 65 to 34. Twelve Democrats supported the legislation. They should be ashamed of themselves. One Republican, Lincoln Chafee, opposed it. He should be a Democrat.

In the Senate, Arlen Specter sought to include an amendment "to allow foreigners designated as enemy combatants to challenge their captivity by filing habeas corpus appeals with the federal courts," but that effort failed 51 to 48. The Republicans have no interest in habeus corpus. Aside from Specter, only three Republicans -- Chafee, Gordon Smith, and John Sununu -- voted for the amendment. One Democrats -- Ben Nelson -- voted against it.

What's in the legislation? Pretty much everything Bush wanted -- a lot of leeway that empowers the president to make the key decisions regarding the application of the Geneva Conventions and habeus corpus with respect to enemy combatants as defined by the president.

Here's how The Washington Post explained it: "By writing into law for the first time the definition of an 'unlawful enemy combatant,' the bill empowers the executive branch to detain indefinitely anyone it determines to have 'purposefully and materially' supported anti-U.S. hostilities. Only foreign nationals among those detainees can be tried by the military commissions, as they are known, and sentenced to decades in jail or put to death."

Here's how the editors of The New Republic explained it: "For starters, the bill strips federal courts of the ability to hear challenges to the military commissions until after the trials are completed--which could result in years of legal uncertainty. It also repeals the writ of habeas corpus for suspected enemy combatants held at Guantánamo Bay who are never formally charged with a crime, making it impossible for them to challenge the lawfulness of their detentions. It denies suspected terrorists the right to see exculpatory evidence held by the government, to confront their interrogators in court, or even to see the original transcripts (rather than the translated summaries) of their statements to interrogators."

And here's how Dahlia Lithwick expressed it at Slate: "Now we are affirmatively asking to be left in the dark. Instead of torture we were unaware of, we are sanctioning torture we'll never hear about. Instead of detainees we didn't care about, we are authorizing detentions we'll never know about. Instead of being misled by the president, we will be blind and powerless by our own choice. And that is a shame on us all."

Yes, the shame of it all. America is a fundamentally different country today. David Corn shows just how different it is. All this may have been going on secretly under Bush's guidance, but now America is legally a nation of torture. It is a nation that in this respect now resembles the Cambodia of the Khmer Rouge.

America has lost her way. Or, rather, she has been distorted into something profoundly un-American by her president and his supporters. It is time to take her back again, before it is truly too late.

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  • In our initial acceptance of the Geneva Conventions, we not only demonstrated our commitment to humanity, we honored the principles and values upon which our nation was founded...and in so doing we led the world towards civility by a time when we could have sought retribution and retaliation. In so doing, we led the world out of darkness and we became a beacon for freedom and for justice and provided us with more might than all of the weapons we possessed. By applying our morality with consistency, we provided hope to the oppressed as well as the oppressors that freedom and justice served by all is freedom and justice received by all.

    We stand again at a crossroads. We can succumb to fear and choose a path that not only violates our moral construct but serves to destroy the very foundations upon which this nation was built. If we make the wrong decisions, we will also no longer be defending the values that we purport to honor…we will no longer be patriots because a patriot only exists if the nation he supports still exists. If we give up our values in order to preserve our way of life, we have chosen self-defeat. One can never suspend one’s values in order to defend them. To do so is to have no values.

    Today America is being called upon to lead by example. Should we fail to do so with the courage of our convictions and the commitment to honor those convictions in the face of adversity; we will have ceded our country and our right to lead…at which time the choice to be a patriot will have been precluded. Democracy grows when democracy’s practiced. Dying for democracy can only happen if democracy lives. To deny democracy in order to preserve it is to dishonor those brave enough to defend it.

    Mr. President, will you be a patriot and lead this country or will you abrogate the efforts of the countless patriots that served her well? The fate of America hangs in the balance.

    Read more here:

    By Blogger Daniel DiRito, at 7:43 PM  

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