Coastal Post Online

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May, 2003

The Perfect Storm Is Sinking The Constitution
By Jeanette Pontacq

   The first time I heard the phrase habeas corpus was while attending a retrospective of film noir from the 40s at the old Surf Theater in San Francisco. The phrase seemed to pop up quite regularly in murder mysteries in those days. Fast forward to the 21st Century, and habeas corpus has become an unmentionable word in the corporate media. 
   Habeas corpus is Latin for "you have the body." A writ of habeas corpus is a judicial mandate to a prison official ordering that an inmate be brought to the court so it can be determined whether or not that person is imprisoned lawfully and whether or not he should be released from custody. It also serves as an important check on the manner in which state courts pay respect to federal constitutional rights. Habeas corpus is the cornerstone of western law (from 1679 AD) and the foundation upon which the United States Constitution is built and endured so long. It is what keeps each citizen from being "disappeared" at the whim of government.
   In the name of fighting terrorism, the Bush Administration has unilaterally trashed it as so much useless garbage. No, they didn't announce on Larry King Live that they were canceling it out of western civilization. Instead, they simply ignored it and both refused a lawyer and refused to state charges against an American citizen. Simply put, the citizen has been "disappeared" into the custody of the United States military. 
   This is the first time in our history that such a thing has happened. The citizen in question is one Jose Padilla (aka Abdullah al Muhahir), known in the press as The Dirty Bomber. He has not been charged with any crime, although the Justice Department has publicly accused him of planning to build and detonate a radioactive dirty bomb in the US in partnership with al Qaeda leaders. They offer no proof of their claim, only insisting that they have the right to keep Padilla in custody, without a lawyer and without charges because of "terrorism." Whether or not Padilla is guilty of this accusation is not as important as the fact that habeas corpus has been negated for the first time, setting a dangerous and unconstitutional precedent for each and every American from now on.
   During previous wars, there were cases of American citizens fighting for the enemy. When captured, each was provided a lawyer and given a trial, with charges clearly stated. The concept of habeas corpus was secure, as was the Constitution. But no more, if the Bush Team has anything to do with it. A federal judge is now questioning the government to show proof to continue to hold Padilla. Keep your fingers crossed.
   The corporate press never substantively talks about how much of our Constitution has been trashed in the name of the War on Terrorism. The negation of habeas corpus is only one of many deadly assaults on our rights. Congressional Republicans are already working with the Bush Administration to make permanent the sweeping anti-terrorism powers granted to federal law enforcement agencies after 911 via the Patriot Act. When it passed in October of 2001, moderates and civil libertarians in Congress agreed to support it only by making critical provisions temporary (i.e. to expire at the end of 2005 unless re-authorized by Congress). This latest move would enshrine the assaults on our basic, Constitutional rights forever. 
   And now the Bush team has come up with Patriot Act II, a further sledge hammer approach that results in negating more rights of citizens to privacy, free association, and free speech. Quite a few in Congress are balking, so key provisions of the new Act are being tied to other legislation, under the radar. If that isn't enough to make you gag, the Greens are seriously thinking of putting up a candidate against imperfect Barbara Boxer... a move which will throw the election to a Republican in a tight race. The Left's Circular Firing Squad routine is once again in play. 
   The Perfect Storm has hit America: a pliable, jingoistic corporate media; neo-conservative fundamentalists controlling the executive branch; a disgracefully cowardly Congress and Democratic Party; an American public easily manipulated by fear and patriotism; and a fractured American Left still mired in the feel-good strategies of a quarter century ago. It doesn't look good. 

 

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