Passage of the Military Commissions Act by Congress will be remembered as a black days in the history of our republic. Congress has sullied the “Spirit of 76”–the revolutionary tradition of this nation. The Founding Fathers fought a revolution and founded a nation to assure that all citizens would be provided basic rights and most especially the right to confront involuntary detention before a competent tribunal.
Rejecting the International Law of War, Congress has accepted the Bush Administration’s formulation of the War on Terror. Under this formulation the struggle to prevent and punish those who engage in terrorist acts against US interests is defined as war but those seized in the war’s prosecution are not afforded the status of Prisoners of War. This proposition–a new type of war requiring new rules–has been used to seize citizens of this and other nations anywhere in the world, transfer those individuals to secret prisons, torture them and deny them the rights and protections due to Prisoners of War under the Geneva Conventions.
Bush, his Administration and the Republican Majority in Congress are hoping that our fear will convince us to give up the very freedoms and rights on which this country was founded. They have reason for optimism on this score. Several times before American’s have supported abridgement of citizen rights in the interest of security. Most recently, Japanese and Italian Americans were removed to concentration camps after Pearl Harbor and everyday citizens were blackballed because they chose to associate with those whom a Congressional Committee accused of being “Un-American”.
If Americans allow the Bush Administration to restrict our rights and liberties in the interest of security it will be because we as a society are singularly ignorant about our own history and history generally. Too many Americans have retained allegiance to the symbols of the “Spirit of 76” but have forgotten the meaning. Those who fought to create our republic understood that the right to challenge one’s detention, the Writ of Habeas Corpus, the Great Writ, is the cornerstone of liberty. The revolutionary generation understood that this right must be universal. Without the Great Writ tyrants can rule unimpeded, with it tyranny is circumscribed, forced to reveal its methods and thus is undermined.
Because of his refusal to recognize the universal application of the Writ of Habeas Corpus, England’s King George became an everlasting symbol of tyranny. This symbol is once again relevant. It falls to the current generation, to us, to recognize the fundamental threat which the Bush Administration has posed to our republic and to beat back the Administration’s attacks on liberty and human rights.
We must recapture the “Spirit of 76” which recognized that fundamental rights are universal–applying to all humans, in all portions of the world and at all times. It is time for true patriots to take up pen, take to the streets and turn out to vote in order to deliver an unequivocal message to Bush and the other rulers. It is time for the Spirit of 76 to rise once again and to once again beat back the tyranny of the contemporary version of King George.
FELICE PACE lives in Klamath, California. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org