Thursday, October 19, 2006

The death of habeas corpus - and the best way to boil a frog

Do you know the best way to boil a frog? If you set a pot of water to boil, and drop the frog in once the water's good and hot, the frog will jump right out again and escape.

No, the right way to boil a frog is to pop him in the water while it's still cold. The frog's feeling happy, swimming around in his new cool pool, not a worry in the world. Then gradually... bit by bit, start to turn up the heat. Not too fast, mind - increase the temperature just a fraction at a time, and make sure that Froggy is completely used to the slightly higher temperature before you raise it again. Patiently continue to increase the heat, degree by degree...

By the time your frog realises the water he's swimming in is now too hot to handle... he'll be dead.

Washington Post: An Iraqi detainee appears to be restrained after having suffered injuries to both legs at Abu Ghraib. Yesterday George W Bush signed into law the Military Commissions Act (MCA), better known as The Torture Bill. It's the culmination of six years-worth of turning up the heat on the citizens of the US by George Bush and his cohorts, and another nail in the coffin of that "quaint" old document, The Consitution of the United States of America.

Today, if he so desires, Bush can have you picked up off the street and rendered to Guantanamo Bay, or one of his Black Prisons located in various unscrupulous countries around the world. He can have you tortured in order to force a confession out of you. He can imprison you indefinitely, and you will have no right to a hearing where he would have to prove that you have been imprisoned lawfully, because the ancient right to habeas corpus has been partially suspended in the US by the passing into law of the MCA.

If you're lucky enough to ever have your case brought to court (remember, this law allows him to imprison you without charge indefinitely), he can bring evidence against you which neither you or your lawyers (if you're fortunate enough to get a lawyer) will ever be allowed to see because it's classified; he can have you brought to trial on hearsay evidence alone; and he can have you sentenced to death based on testimony literally beaten out of witnesses.

What does Bush have to prove in order to be allowed under law to carry out these appalling acts of injustice? Nothing. All Bush, "The Decider" needs to do is to declare you "an unlawful enemy combatant". You could be an American citizen or a visitor to the US - it makes no difference. The law is so vaguely worded that anyone in the US can now potentially be picked up, declared an ememy combatant, and "disappeared". For ever.

The New Yorker: An Iraqi prisoner and American military dog handlers. Other photographs show the Iraqi on the ground, bleeding. And don't think you could call upon the Geneva Conventions which guarantee you humane treatment and prevent your captors from torturing you. Under the MCA no defendant may invoke the Geneva Conventions in legal proceedings on their behalf. Oh, and GWB gets to determine “the meaning and application” of the Geneva Conventions banning the torture of prisoners. Told you he was The Decider.

You want more? Here's more from Wikipedia:

If the government chooses to bring a prosecution against the detainee, a military commission is convened for this purpose. The following rules are some of those established for trying unlawful enemy combatants who are not citizens of the United States. [Sec.948b (a)] The Act does exclude these rules from being applied when trying unlawful enemy combatants who are American citizens, per sections 948b(a) and 948c.

  • Certain sections of the Uniform Code of Military Justice are deemed inapplicable - including some relating to a speedy trial [Sec.948b (d)(1)(A)], compulsory self-incrimination [Sec.948b (d)(1)(B)], and pre-trial investigation [Sec.948b (d)(1)(C)].
  • A civilian defense attorney may not be used unless they have clearance to view materials classified Secret. [Sec.949c(b)(3)(D)]
  • Based on his findings, the judge may introduce hearsay evidence [Sec.949a(b)(2)(E)(i)], evidence obtained without a search warrant [Sec.949a(b)(2)(B)], evidence obtained when the degree of coercion is disputed [Sec.948r (d)], or classified evidence not made available to the defense [Sec.949d(f)(2)(B)].
  • A finding of Guilty requires only a 2/3 majority [Sec.949m(a)]
  • The accused may be tried for the same offense a second time “with his consent” [Sec.949h(a)].
  • If the military commission returns a finding of Not Guilty, its convening authority is not required to take action on the findings. [Sec.950b(c)(3)]
"Ah get over it!" you cry. "Stop being so melodramatic! This law is part of The War on Terra, right? They're after The Terrists, not innocent people like me! If I've done nothing wrong, I have nothing to fear!"

Oh really? You think so?

There are thousands of examples from the US and the world over of men and women convicted wrongly for crimes they did not commit. In the UK, where I'm from, we had the Birmingham Six, the Guildford Four and the Maguire Seven.

Seventeen men and women, the youngest of whom was only 14 years old at the time, convicted and imprisoned by over-zealous police forces for IRA bombings which they had nothing to do with. 17 years and three appeals after they were first convicted the Birmingham Six were finally released by the Court of Appeal. The Guildford Four were released on appeal after more than 15 years in jail. The convictions of the Maguire Seven were overturned some time after their sentences were completed. Too late for Giuseppe Conlon, father of Gerard Conlon (a member of the Guildford Four), who died while still in prison. All seventeen claimed they had been beaten and tortured by police in order to gain confessions. Not a single police officer was ever charged.

Google "wrongly convicted" and see what comes up. Here's a piece about wrongful convictions in America from USA Today - Report: Thousands wrongly convicted each year - there are many, many more.

Torture at Abu Ghraib: CBS 60 Minutes II broadcast. Remember Abu Ghraib? The horrifying pictures in this blog are from Abu Ghraib. American soldiers torturing prisoners. It's happened already. What's to say this couldn't happen to "unlawful enemy combatants" detained under the Military Commissions Act? What's to say this couldn't happen to you?

You think it can't happen in America? Think again, little frog. The water's almost at boiling point now. Can you feel it?

Thanks to the PATRIOT Act your President already has the right to listen in to your phone calls (without a warrant), read your emails and find out which websites you visit (and which library books you borrow) without telling you. His people can enter your home without warning or warrant (they can apply for that after the fact) - and they don't have to tell you they were ever there, either. Don't believe me? Follow the links at the end of this post - it's all there, and it's all true.

And now they can detain you indefinitely without ever telling you why, and without ever having to bring you to trial. And they can torture you with impunity while you're imprisoned.

You have one last chance to turn off the heat. It's on November 7. Think about it. And vote!

And as you consider this latest reduction in your freedoms, and this latest attack on all that Americans hold true and sacred, and what that might mean to you, or your neighbours, or your family and friends, I'll give the last word to Keith Olbermann, because he always says it so much better than I ever could. Keith, you rock!

Here's a bit of it:
We have handed a blank check drawn against our own freedom to a man who has said it is unacceptable to compare anything this country has ever done to anything the terrorists have ever done.

We have handed a blank check drawn against our own freedom to a man who has insisted again that "the United States does not torture. It's against our laws and it's against our values" and who has said it with a straight face while the pictures from Abu Ghraib Prison and the stories of Waterboarding figuratively fade in and out, around him.

We have handed a blank check drawn against our own freedom to a man who may now, if he so decides, declare not merely any non-American citizens "unlawful enemy combatants" and ship them somewhere—anywhere - but may now, if he so decides, declare you an "unlawful enemy combatant" and ship you somewhere - anywhere.

And if you think this hyperbole or hysteria, ask the newspaper editors when John Adams was president or the pacifists when Woodrow Wilson was president or the Japanese at Manzanar when Franklin Roosevelt was president.

And if you somehow think habeas corpus has not been suspended for American citizens but only for everybody else, ask yourself this: If you are pulled off the street tomorrow, and they call you an alien or an undocumented immigrant or an "unlawful enemy combatant" - exactly how are you going to convince them to give you a court hearing to prove you are not? Do you think this attorney general is going to help you?

A full transcript of this Special Comment can be found at Crooks and Liars, which is where I downloaded the video from. Thanks, as always, guys. Now go give Keith some love.

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