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Recently Robert Turley, a conservative professor of constitutional law at George Washington University, discussed in the Los Angeles Times how John Ashcroft, head of the Justice Department, has expressed the desire for interment camps to be used to hold US citizens the government labels "enemy combatants". Turley writes, The proposed camp plan should trigger immediate congressional hearings and reconsideration of Ashcroft's fitness for this important office. Whereas Al Qaeda is a threat to the lives of our citizens, Ashcroft has become a clear and present threat to our liberties.

Few who are "cursed with consciousness" (as the saying goes) dispute that the Bush administration is capable of this. It takes too much discipline to fail to observe that the USA Patriot Act and Bush's executive order allowing for military tribunals both eviscerate the Constitution. (For starters, gone is the Fourth Amendment, the attorney-client privilege and the presumption of innocence.) Then there are the more than 1,000 people that Ashcroft's Justice Department secretly rounded up in the wake of the 9/11/01 attacks. Most of these people are male immigrants who have already been deported. The rest are still being held indefinitely for minor violations without any opportunity to speak to an attorney. The names of the detainees still haven't been released and no one outside of the government knows for sure whether any have been secretly tried and sentenced.

The phrase "enemy combatants" apparently refers to the 1942 Supreme Court case Ex Parte Qurin. (For an excellent summary of the case and some of the many flaws in Ashcroft's broad use of it to seize new powers see the Yellow Times.) Quirin concerned eight German-born US residents who were convicted of carrying out sabotage acts for Hitler against the US government. The US Supreme Court sided with the Roosevelt administration's request for military tribunals for these men. There are numerous reasons why Quirin should not be used to the extent that it has. For starters, while the Senate declared war against Nazi Germany the US isn't officially at war now. In addition, while Quirin is now being applied for US citizens seven of the eight saboteurs were German citizens when they were convicted. For another, Quirin does not contain the sweeping language that typifies landmark cases. Finally, at least one of the justices writing for the majority later recanted his opinion.

The Bush administration is using this rare and relatively modest case to facilitate a massive seizure of new powers. At this writing there are a pair of cases which are of grave concern for all US citizens. One concerns Abdullah Al-Mujahir (formerly known as Jose Padilla), the US citizen accused of being a "dirty bomber". He is being held in solitary confinement with no opportunity to see a lawyer. It is believed that the Bush administration plans to have him face a military tribunal. (When Bush signed the executive order authorizing military tribunals he specified they would be for non-citizens only.) No evidence of his guilt has been publicly given, and the mainstream media is covering the matter lethargically.

Another case concerns Yaser Esam Hamdi, who is believed to be a US citizen. He was picked up in Afghanistan. Presumably he was helping the Taliban there. He is now being held in solitary in a Navy jail. He has not been charged with a crime and is also unable to see a lawyer. This is because the Bush administration is asserting that his designation as an "enemy combatant" permits them to deny him his rights as a US citizen indefinitely. The Judge in the case, Robert Doumar, has twice ordered that Hamdi be permitted to speak to an attorney. Both times an appeals court has ruled that this won't happen. Doumar has also requested that the government produce a meaningful argument for denying Hamdi's rights indefinitely. In response, the Justice Department submitted a two-page statement that says the Federal courts have no power to review the executive branch's determination that Hamdi is an "enemy combatant".

These two cases strongly suggest that the Bill of Rights has never been under more severe attack than before. Meanwhile, the "Free Press" remains relatively disinterested in the implications of what's going on. For example, in their recent editorial entitled Half Right on Mr. Hamdi, the Washington Post tells us (WP, 8/20/2002) that they have no reason to doubt the government's factual claims. And, [T]he idea here [in the Hamdi case] is to craft a process that ensures basic fairness while hampering the military minimally. Furthermore, the Post argues that if Hamdi is merely heard to testify that what the government says is true, there will be no need to check its accuracy.

Notice how the Post accepts the idea that the needs of the military supercede the general public (and not the other way around). Also, the Post also doesn't seem to have heard of suspects being tortured into making confessions. The thought that this US citizen is being held indefinitely without any Constitutional rights on the basis of a determination the government has made in secret is of no great concern to the Post. So long as Hamdi is breathing when he's eventually heard from they're seemingly fine with his trial.

Welcome to Hell, ladies and gentlemen. Progressive activists have seen this day coming for a long time. We are not far from the time when martial law is declared and internment (aka "concentration") camps are built to hold US citizens out of favor with the Bush regime.

Mother Nature often punishes those cursed with consciousness. However, being alert sure is preferable to being surprised when your civilization collapses internally.

Scott Loughrey

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