By a pair of 5-4 rulings, the extraordinarily conservative (for example, the late Sen. Jesse Helms singlehandedly kept most Bill Clinton appointments off it for years) 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, in the ongoing saga of Saleh al-Marri (his counsel Jonathan Hafetz is interviewed here) ruled that the Bush Adminstration (1) has the power to hold any of us-- ANY. OF. US.-- indefinitely, solely at the President's whim, if he invokes the magic word "terrorist", but (in this case, a very small but) (2) Mr. al-Marri (or whatever poor hapless bastard is involved be he named Padilla, or Mayfield, or Smith or Jones) may petition a civilian court "to test the evidence" against him, paying the most minor of lip service to the Supreme Court's Boumediene decision from last month and nearly 800 years of Anglo-American law.
Jonathan Hafetz called what we used to think of as the "right" to be punished by confinement by the government only after proper charge and trial... to be the most fundamental "right" of all. Because after all, if we can be locked up forever at the whim or our ruler, then we cannot profess to be a free country. Period. End of story. Everything else-- EVERYTHING ELSE-- in the litany of Bush Administration abuses pales in comparison to this one. While our treatment of foreign nationals at Guantanamo, Bagram, Diego Garcia, Iraq, CIA ghost prisons, affiliated foreign torture chambers, assorted floating and non-floating naval brigs, etc. is appalling, at least that is not all that unprecedented: the understanding is that all wars are chaotic, and "military necessity" covers a multitude of sins, from killing the wrong people to detaining the wrong people, at least for a while (though not even war justifies torture... and we've gone there too).
Picking up people who are, however, lawfully in the United States (al-Marri happened to be a legal immigrant, studying at Bradley University in Peoria, IL, with his wife and five children), is iniquitous. It is unAmerican. It is as fundamentally wrong as our government can be. I fully understand that he is accused of being part of a terrorist sleeper cell. If so, he should be charged, prosecuted at a fair trial and, if convicted jailed, or if the death penalty is appropriate, executed, but all in accordance with an established and fair judicial proceeding. David Addington and Dick Cheney would rather that we lived in a dictatorship, particularly where they are part of the Central Committee. And so, it seems, would their ideological neocon brethren on the Fourth Circuit.
Where is the outrage? I'm listening... the sounds of silence... are deafening.
I am appalled, of course. But you know that. When I manage to shovel myself out of the avalanche of bad news at present (Why do people love to hate Omar Khadr so much? Why did Judge Robertson not do the right thing?) I'll express my indignation more fully. Considering I'm not even American it shouldn't be down to me to get worked up about the Cheney/Addington dictatorship on your fellow citizens' behalf, but there you go ...
Thanks for the post.
Posted by Andy Worthington at July 17, 2008 7:36 PM