Saturday, March 7, 2009

National security and human rights; boundaries are required

While studying Criminal Justice in college, I recall writing a paper on the restrictions imposed on the law enforcement community by the 4th Amendment. For more on the 4th Amendment, go to That being said; the allowances given to former President Bush following the horrific events of 9/11, paved the way for him to make a mockery out of the Constitution. There is no doubt that extraordinary measures were called for. However, according to memos released, and soon to be released by Attorney General Eric Holder, Jr., unprecedented executive powers were granted.

When one man is given the power to disregard constitutional rights; accountability is no longer an issue. History has shown us that nothing positive results from such practices. Have we already forgotten the Iran-Contra Affair? When Bush and his closest followers chose to take advantage of these powers accorded to them; the 1st and 4th Amendments were ignored under the guise of national security.

According to Tim Ruthen of the L.A. Times, the Office of Legal Counsel which was headed by former Assistant Attorney General John Yoo, gave Bush the power to supersede these amendments. Among the actions this carte blanche approach provided for was the torture and illegal detention of many suspected terrorists. It also included the use of widespread domestic wiretapping without the need for a warrant. Among the original opponents of this were Jack Goldsmith, successor to John Yoo, and surprisingly Bush’s own Attorney General, John Ashcroft. What came as no surprise was the fact that Vice President Dick Cheney (shocker!) and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld were staunch supporters of this executive tyranny.

Michael Ratner, President of the Center for Constitutional Rights, has publicly accused Rumsfeld of being responsible for the Pentagon’s policy on torture. Author John Byrne has devoted an entire book to Rumsfeld’s actions and has expressed a desire for a formal prosecution. For more: Senator Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Judiciary Committee Chairman, has begun a petition calling for the establishment of a Truth & Reconciliation Commission to investigate the alleged abuses during Bush’s tenure. “These abuses may include the use of torture, warrantless wiretapping, extraordinary rendition, and executive override of laws.” There are many who feel that this is not enough; contending that war crimes were committed. This is a problem that is simply not going to go away.

Along with the other powers mentioned; the President also had the ability to approve treaties with other nations without the consent of Congress. This is an incredible amount of responsibility for a man of superior intelligence and decision making capabilities, never mind one of… Present Assistant Attorney General Steven Bradbury has stated that many of the allowances granted between 2001 and 2003 “should not be treated as authoritative for any purpose.” He went on to claim that the Department of Justice had conveniently withdrawn some of the more questionable memos. This, coupled with the allegation that nearly 100 tapes depicting torture inflicted on prisoners were destroyed by the C.I.A., has brought human rights issues to the forefront.

I have no doubt that certain provisions outlined in the Patriot Act were responsible for the disclosure of numerous terrorist cells. This undoubtedly resulted in the saving of countless American lives. My problem is with the authority one man was granted without the benefit of some oversight. Let’s remember; this was not Abraham Lincoln in office. Americans have been victims of terrible violations of human rights, such as the Bataan Death March in 1942, the abduction of American citizens in Iran in 1980, and more to the point, the abuse of American POWs during and after the Viet Nam War. We portray the image of defenders of human rights as evidenced by our intervention into such places as Bosnia and Somalia.

My hope is that the fallout from these allegations and investigations do not permanently scar our image. Like all Americans, I was outraged watching the planes crash into the towers and called for immediate retribution. But have we gone too far? Only time will tell and personally, I am fearful of what may be uncovered.

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