On Tuesday, Oct. 16th the Military Commissions Act of 2006 was signed into law.
Often called the â€œtorture bill,â€ the bulk of what has been reported about the Military Commissions Act stresses that it grants the president the ability to define the appropriate interrogation techniques to be used on prisoners.
This mischaracterizes much of the language of the bill in its final form.
Despite the general impression that the bill only affects terrorists, this bill radically changes your rights as a citizen of the United States.
The Military Commissions Act states that anyone can now be legally jailed without charge on the instruction of the president, whether you are a citizen or not.
I wish that I could say that the only thing that our government has been up to is redefining torture.
In Star Wars III, Senator Padme said, â€œSo this is how democracy dies: with thunderous applause.â€
That scene just took place in real life in the form of the Military Commissions Act of 2006.
â€œThe bill has been amended to eliminate habeas corpus review even for persons inside the United States, and even for persons who have not been determined to be enemy combatants […] without any avenue for effective review,â€ said Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa) of the Military Commissions Act.
What the heck is â€œhabeas corpusâ€ anyway?
The phrase â€œhabeas corpusâ€ refers to laws about the governmentâ€™s right to hold a person prisoner. If the government arrests you or detains you for any reason, they have to show that you are being held lawfully. Without habeas corpus, the Bill of Rights is largely ornamental.
The Military Commissions Act redefines â€œunlawful enemy combatantâ€ so that it can be applied to any U.S. citizen. Itâ€™s not limited to members of Al Qaeda. It can be used as legal basis to target anyone the government chooses. You donâ€™t even have to be accused of being a combatant.
In an article in the Los Angeles Times Yale Professor Bruce Ackerman said that according to the bill, the president can seize anybody who has â€œpurposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States.â€
Ackerman then points out how this bit of legal language might not be as narrow as you might think.
If a citizen has contributed money to a Middle Eastern charity, for example, it could be interpreted that you have â€œpurposefully and materially supported hostilitiesâ€ against the United States.
Many in the administration have said repeatedly that those who oppose Bushâ€™s Iraq policies are aiding the terrorists.
The most recent polls show that 66 percent of American citizens disapprove of the way that the president is handling the situation in Iraq.
The odds are two out of three that a citizen could be defined as an â€œunlawful enemy combatant,â€ at least according to the party rhetoric to date.
You may already be a terrorist!
Specter said the billâ€™s suspension of habeas corpus is like to turning â€œback the clock 800 years,â€ referring to the original introduction of habeas corpus in the Magna Carta in 1215. This ancient document states that even a king may not kill a man or hold him against his will â€œexcept by the lawful judgment of his peers or by the law of the land.â€
If you are at all in doubt about the importance of the concept of habeas corpus that has now been â€œrendered quaintâ€ by the administration, remember this: the men who risked their lives to sign the Declaration of Independence considered â€œdepriving us of Trial by Juryâ€ reason enough to start the Revolutionary War.