Friday, January 27, 2006

Laws and Disorder

Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, author of The Gulag Archipelago, described all too well the Soviet penchant for secrecy and its debilitating effects upon the fabric of society. Secrecy destroys the sense of community. Secret courts, secret prisons, and secret trials turn the law into a boot on the neck of the people. Freedom of speech and of the press is replaced by the right to petition the government from your cell. If a confession is all that is needed to put you away for a decade, or forever, the prosecutor doesn’t worry himself about evidence. And if even a confession is superfluous, questioning is merely an opportunity for the interrogator to have a little fun.

The Soviet system of state terror did not spring into existence overnight. It developed gradually and logically and always, of course, to defend the homeland.

By Executive Order in November of 2001, George Bush, Jr. granted himself the power to compel a military trial for any non-citizen he deems to be engaged in terrorism. The suspect would not have the protections ordinarily afforded prisoners. The trial could be secret; the evidence could be secret; and the suspect would have no right of appeal. If found guilty, he could be executed. (“End-Running the Bill of Rights,” Washington Post, 11/16/2001, p. A46)

The Bush administration, in violation of the Fourth Amendment, authorized warrantless searches of U.S. citizens — to defend the homeland, of course. Our new attorney general, until recently a counsel for George Bush, Jr., contends that torture is permissible. Alberto Gonzales argues that even without the Patriot Act, George Bush, Jr. has the authority to violate the law.

Four Muslims who were held without charges after 9/11 and then deported have returned to the U.S. to pursue a lawsuit against the government. They claim they were beaten, verbally abused, forbidden to contact their families or attorneys, and held captive even after they were cleared. When not in court, the men must remain in their hotel and may not speak about their case. So much for the First Amendment.

Last year, we learned that the Central Intelligence Agency had operated secret prisons in former Soviet client states — indeed, in former Soviet prison facilities. When the Agency’s activities were exposed, the nameless victims were moved to new dungeons, apparently in north Africa.

In a major address delivered on May 26, 2004, former Vice-President Al Gore discussed the circumstances which led to the abuses at abu Ghraib prison and elsewhere. (An audio clip from his speech follows.) Gore noted the possibility that 37 prisoners may have been murdered while in custody. More recent information, unfortunately, suggests that the number is closer to 100.

this is an audio post - click to play

Enlisted personnel were placed under the control of civilians who were not subject to the Uniform Code of Military Justice and who had been granted immunity from prosecution. A civilian contractor could commit murder or rape or bank robbery without fear of arrest. Last year, a video emerged from Iraq. Private security guards had filmed themselves as they drove around Baghdad shooting at randomly selected cars.

Iraqi General Abed Hamed Mowhoush turned himself in to U.S. forces on November 10, 2003. Sixteen days later, he was killed. Chief Warrant Officer Lewis Welshofer, Jr. put a sleeping bag over Mowhoush’s head, covered his mouth, and sat on his chest until he died. On January 23, 2006, Welshofer was convicted of negligent homicide. He was fined $6000 and sentenced to 60 days of house arrest — although he is allowed to work and attend church. Before Welshofer murdered Mowhoush, the Central Intelligence Agency brought in Iraqi assets to beat the general. A secret witness, hidden from view in court, testified at Welshofer’s trial. Defense attorney Frank Spinner asked his client about the C.I.A. and then apologized for the error. Mere mention of the C.I.A. was not permitted.

In this country not so long ago, whites enjoyed effective immunity for crimes committed against blacks. A distressingly large number of people accepted that situation as proper and even moral.

The Bush administration has launched a war against the United States of America, and they are winning. They claim immunity; they say the laws don’t apply to them. It is a measure of how far we have fallen that we can speak seriously of “authorizing” criminal acts. Our nation’s founders rebelled against such arrogance; but today, we as a people are much smaller and far more timid. Kill just a few of us, and the rest will rush to surrender their privacy, their rights, and the futures of their children.


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