Wednesday, August 02, 2006

the prophecies of Kafka

I've never been very afraid of my country, but I have always been extremely wary of my government, just like the bumper sticker says. But I have real cause for concern after reading this article from TAP. It seems some of our most precious rights afforded under the Constitution, large swathes of the Bill of Rights, are left in the hands of Congress, widely recognized as the least trustworthy of institutions.

Following 9/11, President Bush set up military commissions at Guantánamo to try suspected terrorists with war crimes, dismissing any help from Congress or military lawyers. The Supreme Court, in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, ruled that this military trial system is illegal. The Court ruled that they violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice which defines court-martial procedures. They also ruled that the Common Article 3 of the Geneva Convention still applies to non-state actors like al-Qaeda. The president could either follow the law or ask congress to change it.

Well Congress is thinking of doing just that in an incredibly broad new piece of legislation submitted by the president. Under the proposal, defendants would lack the right to confront accusers, to exclude hearsay accusations, or bar evidence obtained through torture. There would be no more guarantee of a speedy or public trial or the right to choose counsel, who in turn would not get the same access to evidence that prosecutors would have. It would even allow the SecDef to add crimes at will to the new court's jurisdiction.

From the NYT:
John D. Hutson, the Navy's top uniformed lawyer from 1997 to 2000, said the rules would evidently allow the government to tell a prisoner: "We know you're guilty. We can't tell you why, but there's a guy, we can't tell you who, who told us something. We can't tell you what, but you're guilty."
These are precisely the restrictions that Hamdan said the law prohibited. It makes the Geneva Conventions unenforceable, allowing the president to pay lip service to international law while his lawyers claim waterboarding is not torture. And as it stands, this horrific unperson status could be extended at will to anybody, including American citizens for not just being in a terrorist group and engaging into violent acts, but aiding 'groups engaged in anti-US hostilities'. Former Justic Department lawyer and testicle-crushing apologist John Yoo has said that administration officials basically "took DoD regulations and turned them into a statute for Congress to pass."

Here we have gone way beyond bending the rules to comply with Hamdan. This bill makes the whole world into a battlefield and mere association with suspects the basis for a military trial. Individuals thousands of miles from actual combat could be locked away indefinitely without charges and detained even when found innocent in this kangaroo court. And this eleastic definition of 'enemy combatant' in the context of a never-ending war has the clear potential to redefine treason so that people barely connected to international terrorism can have their rights vanish at the whim of Bush and his sinister cadre. Already we see this in the fear-mongering of self-serving Rovian attacks on media sources 'aiding the enemy' by reporting on US military actions.

So suppose our friend is an American citizen, living in some Western European country like Portugal. He, for the sake of this example it makes more sense to have him be a he, is an aspiring journalist and has made some contacts with people around the world as sources. However, he is an independent producer with no corporate protection.

One day, he receives an email from a mysterious unknown friend of a friend of a friend who claims he is a member of a militant Islamic organization. Perhaps our American friend tosses this aside as a crank, perhaps he engages in a dialogue, perhaps he denounces his philosophy a million times. It is irrelevant since the truth of the matter cannot be divined from within once the system is activated. Once you are there, you are presumed guilty until proven innocent. A CIA section in Western Europe is alerted to this communication through their ECHELON system, and empowered by this new Kafka Bill, proceeds to do the following:
Our American friend comes home one day to find several burly men in his apartment. Perhaps they taser or otherwise physically incapacitate him, perhaps with the cooperation of a local counterterrorist force. He is bound, gagged and sedated and taken to Lisbon airport. None of this is beyond belief for a legitimate violent extremist as we all now know, but when the definition of enemy combatant has been made elastic enough to encompass a member of the press, then all of the anti-media rhetoric made recently takes a creepy dog-whistle meaning.

He is then hustled onto Gulfstream aircraft like N44982 in the middle of the night and sent to a black site, in oh say, Uzbekistan. This country, by the way, is considered the most repressive of Central Asian autocracies where civil liberties would be a concept of great amusement for the authorities there. According to former CIA case officer Bob Baer,
"If you want a serious interrogation, you send a prisoner to Jordan. If you want them to be tortured, you send them to Syria. If you want someone to disappear - never to see them again - you send them to Egypt."
The aircraft is owned by a brass plaque company like Premier Executive Transport Services (based in my home county!) and uses an inversion of the tactic used by the CIA in the 1970's to bring exiled South American dictators back to the countries they bilked, thus justice could be 'rendered' by these countries. Now it is used to evade justice.

And if you think erroneous rendition is exaggerated, consider Khalid El-Masri, who was mistaken for a terrorist named Khalid Al-Masri. El-Masri, a German citizen, was pulled from a bus on the Serbia-Macedonia border and held for three weeks. He was drugged and beaten before being flown to Afghanistan on a Boeing Business Jet operated by Aero Contractors. El-Masri was released after five months. Or Laid Saidi, an Algerian detained and tortured along with El-Masri, who was apparently apprehended because of a taped telephone conversation in which the word tirat, meaning "tires" in Arabic, was mistaken for the word tairat, meaning "airplanes."

What does it profit a country to win a war but lose its soul?

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