Wednesday, July 12, 2006

The Emperor Backs Off

While no one in the traditional media has explicitly pointed this out, the US has been on the verge of a constitutional crisis for the past several years. Ever since the regime first touted its theory of the unitary executive having extraordinary powers during war time, the executive branch has proceeded to act as if it was the sole governing entity. Congress fell in line quickly, and it wasn't until the Supreme Court issued its Hamdan decision that someone actually pushed back on this theory. The result of the push-back is described in this Washington Post article.

The Bush administration has agreed to apply the Geneva Conventions to all terrorism suspects in U.S. custody, bowing to the Supreme Court's recent rejection of policies that have imprisoned hundreds for years without trials.

The Pentagon announced yesterday that it has called on military officials to adhere to the conventions in dealing with al-Qaeda detainees. The administration also has decided that even prisoners held by the CIA in secret prisons abroad must be treated in accordance with international standards, an interpretation that would prohibit prisoners from being subjected to harsh treatment in interrogations, several U.S. officials said.

...Until recently, the White House and Defense Department have pursued such anti-terrorism policies with little interference from Congress and the courts, but that has begun to change.
[Emphasis added]

Is the battle over? Hardly. It's barely been joined. The administration has already begun pressuring Congress to produce a bill that satisfies the Supreme Court without giving detainees all of the rights inherent in regular civilian and military proceedings. The absolute right to an attorney and important evidentiary rules (among them the barring of hearsay evidence) should not be up for negotiation, yet the Emperor urges that neither are necessary in these circumstances. Sadly, Congress will probably agree.

It is, however, a hopeful sign. It also proves what I've long believed: if you confront a bully, the bully usually backs down and whimpers weakly.

Note: The full text of the Department of Defense Memo is located here in pdf format.


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