Monday, February 19, 2007

Undoing Another Disaster

One of the biggest impediments to moving the country forward is the enormous mess left by the last Congress for the 110th Congress to clean up. The budget is the most obvious item, but that was a case of omission. The last Congress just never got around to doing one of its most important jobs, probably because the GOP was more interested in grand stand maneuvers such as promoting a flag-burning amendment to the US Constitution. There were, however, a whole raft of sins of commission that will have a long lasting effect on our democracy if not addressed.

Most of those sins of commission came in the form of bills passed by the Republican led Congress which essentially gave the President whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted it. The most horrifying of those bills inevitably reduced or shredded the civil liberties of citizens in defiance of the Constitution: the dismantling of habeas corpus, the authorization of torture, the invasion of privacy in various parts of the Patriot Act are just a few of the areas in which democracy was attacked.

In today's NY Times, an editorial sets forth another of those egregious bills passed "in the dead of night:"

A disturbing recent phenomenon in Washington is that laws that strike to the heart of American democracy have been passed in the dead of night. So it was with a provision quietly tucked into the enormous defense budget bill at the Bush administration’s behest that makes it easier for a president to override local control of law enforcement and declare martial law.

The provision, signed into law in October, weakens two obscure but important bulwarks of liberty. One is the doctrine that bars military forces, including a federalized National Guard, from engaging in law enforcement. Called posse comitatus, it was enshrined in law after the Civil War to preserve the line between civil government and the military. The other is the Insurrection Act of 1807, which provides the major exemptions to posse comitatus. It essentially limits a president’s use of the military in law enforcement to putting down lawlessness, insurrection and rebellion, where a state is violating federal law or depriving people of constitutional rights.

...Beyond cases of actual insurrection, the president may now use military troops as a domestic police force in response to a natural disaster, a disease outbreak, terrorist attack or to any “other condition.”
[Emphasis added]

The editorial notes that Sen. Leahy (D-Vt) and Sen. Bond (R-MO) have introduced a bill that would undo this threat of presidential imposition of martial law whenever he feels it necessary and urges its passage. This is, of course, the proper thing to support.

It would have been nice, however, if the mainstream media had paid more attention to this kind of behavior by the administration and the last rubber-stamp Congress the past six years when these sorts of bills were passed. Too many of the front pages and the editorial pages of the nation's press were nothing more than simple repetitions of the official White House line. The press was reduced to nothing more than stenographers. It might have made a difference if Congress had been called on these blatantly undemocratic bills.

Fortunately, the American electorate had a more visible issue to contend with in November, 2006: the Iraq War. They turned out Republicans and turned over the Congress to Democrats, who now must spend as much time undoing the damage of the last Congress as to solving the problems of climate change and alternative energy sources and a host of other issues which have come to the fore.

That the NY Times and other papers of record are finally willing to confront the mess is certainly a welcome sign, and fortunately it's not completely a case of a day late and a dollar short, but it's mighty close to it.

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Blogger david said...

due to the suspension of habeas corpus (thanks to the Military Commissions Act) there is no legal recourse for detainees of the United States. the lawyers for hospital administrator Adel Hamad, a detainee at Guantanamo, thus took the unprecedented step of releasing video testimony on YouTube to the court of public opinion.

You can see this compelling video at:

you can also add your name in support of habeas restoration and read a blog posting by Brandon Mayfield, the U.S. citizen wrongfully incarcerated for the Madrid bombings who is now challenging the constitutionality of the Patriot Act in district court

join the project!

9:56 PM  

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