Friday, May 4, 2007

Who shall guard the guardians themselves?

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?    — Juvenal, ca. 100 AD

Our Constitution has not been this stretched since the Civil War. The current President once famously looked into the eyes of Vladimir Putin and declared him a "good man", who has ever since been steadily dismantling democracy in Russia. The President has himself put suspects in Guantanamo, beyond the reach of our courts, because they were apparently self-evidently "bad men". Now apparently numerous of these "bad men" are being released without a trial.

It is time to admit that no one, saint or sinner, can look into another's eyes and see anything of value. Due process, habeas corpus, public trial by jury, right to face the accuser, right to see evidence, right to competent and independent representation, these are the best we can do. Torture, kidnapping (rendition), and secret detention are being shamefully associated with our country.

America is at its best in hope, and at its worst in fear. The only thing we have to fear is fear itself, words this President might have done well to utter on 9/11 (instead of "bring it on!"). Congress can end the fear and start the long process of stitching our Constitution back together. Hope, not fear, will overcome our enemies and win back our friends.

The U.S. Congress must immediately undertake the following:

  • Restore the right of habeas corpus and oversight by the Federal courts over all prisoners in U.S. custody once removed from an active battlefied.
  • Declare categorically that torture is not only illegal, but repugnant and anti-American, and that any official engaging in it can face criminal prosecution.
  • Close the internment camps at Guantanamo which are seen overseas as the Abu Graib of the West.
  • Restore the presumption of innocence until proven guilty in a court of law open to the public.
  • Restore the balance of our tripartite government, which has tilted perilously far to the Executive. Declare in a Congressional resolution that Executive "signing statements" are vacuous: it is the Congress that legislates, not the President.
  • Denounce, from whatever quarter or political party, false charges of insufficient patriotism or support for the troops in combat. Such McCarthyite chicanery is foolhardy and dangerous when weighty matters of national importance are discussed: this is truly the last refuge of a scoundrel.
  • Remind the people that civilians run our military, not a junta, and that it is not only their right but their duty to question the strategy and direction of war, set benchmarks for Iraq's government — and for our own.
  • Refuse to confirm out of principle any interim appointment not submitted for Senate confirmation at the first opportunity.
  • Assume the burden of oversight that our Constitution demands of the Congress.

Members of Congress, you should take Sen. Robert Byrd's advice and keep a small copy of our Constitution in your vest pocket at all times, so that you will be reminded daily what it is that "shall guard the guardians themselves", for mere mortals are not up to the task. You can show your respect to this great document by passing the Restoring the Constitution Act of 2007. This issue is too important for partisanship. Please act now before it becomes one, or our red/blue population will start to tear apart.

Our troops are fighting to defend the Constitution against foreign enemies. We must do our part to defend it against domestic ones. Only in working together will America again earn the admiration of the world. Our Constitution can unite the people. At these divisive times, it is the only thing that can. The alternate scenario, rounding up all the coins in circulation and scratching off the E pluribus unum motto, is too horrible to contemplate.

I am not usually a believer in the efficacy of petitions, but desperate times call for desperate belief-suspending. Please sign the ACLU petition to restore the right of habeas corpus.

3 comments:

Brendan said...

In another case of great minds thinking alike, I promise you that I came up with the title for this post before seeing yours.

To paraphrase W, the problem with Latin is that it has no word for coincidence.

Charles Roldan said...

I didn't know how to e-mail you. I have been trying to figure it out, so I'll just say this here.

Thank you. I really appreciate it. Seriously, I do. You've led me to do some real hard thinking and looking inward in ways I haven't before.

Dan Weston said...

Sorry, I forgot to enable the display e-mail option in my profile. I just enabled it. Click on the "View My Complete Profile" link on the blog homepage, then the contact email link should be in the upper-left corner. It is a heavily spammed e-mail account I usually check only once every couple days, but if you email me there I will send you an e-mail address I check much more frequently.