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The End of Habeas Corpus and the Belligerent Despot-in-Chief


On October 17th, George W. Bush, signed into law a bill he bulldozed through Congress that, in Senator Patrick Leahy’s prophetic words, would suspend “the writ of habeas corpus, a core value in American law, in order to avoid judicial review that prevents government abuse.” This law, whose constitutionality is in doubt and will be reviewed by the Supreme Court in due time, puts so much arbitrary and secret unilateral power in the hands of the Presidency that the ghost of King George III must be wondering what all the fuss was about in 1776.

If you want more evidence of how obsessively-compulsed George W. Bush is about his wars, their fabrications, budgets and cover-ups, consider his cue card statement on the legislation at the White House signing ceremony. “It is a rare occasion when a president can sign a bill he knows will save American lives,” he declared.

Hello! He has rejected all kinds of occasions to save American lives here at home. He has refused to do anything about the widespread and preventable mayhem known as medical and hospital malpractice, while fanatically pushing for restrictions on the right of such victims or their next of kin to have their full day in court. At least 80,000 Americans die from malpractice just in hospitals every year, according to the Harvard School of Public Health.

The same Presidential pen could have saved thousands of more lives and prevented many more injuries were it to alight on safety legislation and larger budgets for reducing job-related sickness and trauma (58,000 lost lives a year) and air pollution (65,000 lives a year)–to name a few categories of preventable violence. But he signaled from the onset of his Presidency that such bills would be opposed from the getgo.

And once again remember his incompetence in letting U.S. soldiers–hundreds of them die in Iraq from the lack of adequate body armor.

At the signing event, Mr. Bush called the legislation “a way to deliver justice to the terrorists we have captured.” To him all captured subjects are ipso facto convicted terrorists. It is not as if his record gives any credence to such fantasies. But he persists in his deception none the less. Out of nearly 700 prisoners in Guantánamo Bay, he has charged only ten after over four years of detention. Ten! Why? Mostly, as military, civilian lawyers and other monitors have said, because the vast majority of these abused or beaten prisoners were innocent from the day of their apprehension–victims of bounty hunters in Afghanistan and surroundings.

It served Bush political purposes to say to the American people that Guantánamo Bay contained among the most evil of all people, so long as he could deny the innocents any opportunity to challenge their incarceration (habeas corpus) in an impartial tribunal. Until the Supreme Court ordered him to stop denying the “detainees” due process.

Here in the U.S. Bush has imprisoned without charges over 5000 people, as terror suspects. Ninety nine percent turned out to be innocent of accusations that they were engaged in terrorist activities. Given this batting average, it is troubling that Mr. Bush has the unchecked power to deprive those he imprisons, with or without charges and without attorneys, of habeas corpus. In these tribunals established by the new law, the defendants’ have no right to review evidence against them and cannot challenge Bush’s unbridled power to determine the definition of torture.

So vague are the law’s words that what constitutes “terrorist activity” and whether it can be used against U.S. citizens remain with the monarchical power of George W. Bush to decide.

Anyone who doubts the assertion that the new law will be used to remove any boundaries–constitutional, statutory or treaty–from restraining Mr. Bush and his subordinates should read the celebratory article by a former Bush Administration official, law professor John Yoo, in the Wall Street Journal. He reads the law as removing the courts–including the Supreme Court–from any judicial review of Bush’s “war on terror”. Mr. Yoo left out the obvious conclusion, which is that Mr. Bush is now, in this area, the legislative and the judicial authority–the dominator of checks and balances.

To Bush allies, such as Mr. Yoo, the boundless inherent power of the Presidency, does not ever include any recommendation that these poor, innocent souls, swept up by wasteful, boomeranging dragnet practices, be compensated for their brutalization and confinement.

Bush’s belligerent policies after 9/11, which caught him napping in Crawford, have served to provide recruitment grounds for more and more trained terrorists. Look at Iraq and Afghanistan. Pursuing policies against terrorism that create more terrorists have been noted by Bush’s own officials, not to mention scores of ex-military, diplomatic and intelligence officials who served in past Republican and Democratic administrations.

One would think, with such backing, the Congressional Democrats would have moved to block his rampages which have so lowered his public approval to below 40 percent.

None of this fazes or affects the messianic militarist in the White House. He continues his ways of endangering our nation, weakening its moral and political influence abroad, turning off more and more of the American people disgusted with the huge costs in lives and money, and deep-sixing his Republican Party. Even the latter achievement cannot rescue history’s description as an all-purpose, self-inflicted Wrecker-in-Chief.



Ralph Nader is a consumer advocate, lawyer and author of Only the Super-Rich Can Save Us! 

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