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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Editorial

Late last month, this year’s Do-Nothing Congress finally did something; it passed the Military Commissions Act of 2006, which states that “The authority to establish military commissions… may not be construed to alter or limit the authority of the President under the Constitution of the United States and laws of the United States to establish military commissions for areas declared to be under martial law or in occupied territories should circumstances so require.”

Read that sentence carefully, for the devil is in the details. In keeping with this administration’s conception of the Unitary Executive, where all other branches of the federal government are beholden to the whim of the Executive, the President of the United States now has the ability to unilaterally define proper conduct for our military courts.

The original conception of the Executive Branch to the minds of the Founding Fathers was a limited one, aware as they were of their young country’s recent liberation from an empire controlled by the world’s most powerful executive, the English Crown. So it is interesting to see the party who claims the “Originalist” view of the Constitution, the Republicans, rubber-stamp our current President as he makes unprecedented power grabs in the name of the War on Terror.

To be sure, there have been instances of Presidential power grabs in the past; Franklin Delano Roosevelt (briefly) increased the number of Supreme Court justices so as to stack the Court with “his men”. But never has a President taken it upon himself to single-handedly decide the makeup of a military tribunal, whether it will follow international law or even the law of our own land. Until now.

This Act allows the “secret” Eastern European C.I.A. prisons to exist upon the President’s say-so, and it also allows the naming of anyone- even a U.S. citizen- to be named an “unlawful enemy combatant”. It does away with the U.S. War Crimes Act of 1996, written into law by a Republican Congress, that held these United States to the same standards as any other nation during wartime. In 2005,

Senator John McCain, famously a former prisoner of war, desired to attach an anti-torture amendment to the act. The President threatened to veto the bill, but agreed to sign if Congress passed the Detainee Treatment Act, which denied the writ of habeas corpus (which protects against unlawful imprisonment) from the detainees in Guantanamo Bay prison. He got his legislation through and then- voila!-produced a signing statement that allows him to ignore the anti-torture amendment. A deft sleight of hand, yes?

We’d spare the rhetoric about how the Bush administration is gutting the Bill of Rights and undermining our nation’s hard-won international prestige, but in this case the rhetoric is correct. America has always been different; we’ve had our sorry instances in the past-the detainment of Japanese prisoners in World War II comes to mind-but Americans like to think that we keep our word and offer a square deal.

The Military Commissions Act, in treating these detainees (many of whom are no doubt guilty of conspiring against our country) in the same manner as the kangaroo courts of despotic regimes does not protect our nation or uphold our international standing. It only serves to corrode the due process our legal system is founded on. It is not a square deal, but a raw one, for all of us. It does not harm the guilty detainees, many of whom have given their lives in opposition to our country and thus are simply waiting to die for their cause. It harms us; tyranny comes not at once, but in increments, and quietly.