Thursday, June 12, 2008

Jeffersonian Ideals Trump Scalian Cynicism

"We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness."

On October 17, 2006, President Bush signed the Military Commissions Act of 2006 into law, effectively dumping the detainees being held at Guantanamo Bay and other off shore sites into an unchecked legal black hole. The law gave the government sweeping powers including; determining whether interrogation methods violated international treaties such as the Geneva Conventions, the ability to present hearsay evidence (not legal in U.S. Courts), and the imposition of death sentences. And just to keep things interesting, it did not require that detainees be granted legal counsel or have the right to challenge their detentions in Federal Court. A veritable slam-dunk if you were on the government side of the case.

Today the Supreme Court took a peek at the U.S. Constitution and set things right. Well 5/9ths of them anyway.

Of course, right wing commentators and their well educated listeners railed against the ruling and offered insightful comments such as this by one of Rush Limbaugh's ditto-heads, "I'm absolutely sick of the liberals and the leftists raping our country of all our rights and giving it to foreigners," but that was to be expected. Yep, liberals and leftists are running amok in America raping the Constitution and stripping us of our rights. Oh wait, it's the President and his administration that are doing that.

What amazes me is how little faith the President, Rush, today's ditto head and others of their ilk seem to have in the foundations of the country they claim so much to love. From their lamenting, you would think that terrorists are regularly set free to roam the streets of our towns, raping, pillaging and salting the earth as they leave. The record in fact is quite different. The four individuals charged with the 1993 World Trade Center bombings were convicted and received life sentences. Sheikh Omar Abdel-Rahman, in 1995 was convicted of seditious conspiracy for encouraging attacks against U.S. civilian targets and received a life sentence. Terry Nichols, a convicted accomplice in the Oklahoma City bombing received a life sentence, and Timothy McVeigh the convicted bomber was put to death. Each of these defendants enjoyed the rights afforded by the Constitution and it would be hard to argue that the defendants did not have to account for their crimes.

What the Court did today was ensure the basic legal protections that all of the detractors of this decision enjoy.

It was the right decision and it is a decision that subscribes to our higher ideals. It is a decision that ensures the United States of America stands for something. It is a decision that honors the freedoms for which so many Americans have sacrificed their lives. Perhaps Justice Kennedy in the majority opinion said it best, "the laws and Constitution are designed to survive, and remain in force, in extraordinary times. Liberty and security can be reconciled; and in our system reconciled within the framework of the law."

Unfortunately this view is not shared by all. Justice Antonin Scalia in a dissenting opinion declared that the decision, "warps our Constitution," and that our, "nation will live to regret what the court has done today."

How sad that, like that angry ditto head, Justice Scalia too has so little faith in the Constitution he interprets and the founding principles upon which the nation he serves were built.