Wednesday, December 7, 2011

The Bill of Rights Eviscerated -- What Now?

Guest post by Ben Carmack

Many thanks to my friend Jon Adams for letting me know about the National Defense Authorization Act, a law that Congress is preparing to pass and send to our president for his signature. According to this article from the Huffington Post, the U.S. Senate voted, 38 to 60, to reject an amendment from Sen. Mark Udall (D-CO) that would have rolled back a provision of the bill that allows the U.S. military to imprison American citizens indefinitely without charges or trial if they are "suspected of terrorism."

How many hearings would one get if one were charged under this bill? One hearing. And then prison. 

This is disturbing on many levels. The prospect of the "War on Terror" coming to the United States--with fellow citizens, many of them perhaps our Muslim neighbors, being railroaded into prison and "enhanced interrogation," then held indefinitely--is not pleasant. But we can't say we weren't warned about this. We allowed the federal government under the previous administration to persuade us that Muslim terrorists were a grave threat to our country, when reality makes clear that they were not. We bought the fear mongering; now the policies we allowed to be used on foreigners, because "they weren't U.S. citizens" and "not entitled to our Constitutional protections," are now going to be used on us.

Extreme nationalism and hatred of "the other" doesn't work, folks. We're all people. We're all human beings, whether we're American citizens or not. The basic human rights listed in the Bill of Rights are inherent rights of all humans, given to us by a good and just God. Governments do not decree them and hand them down to us, then, when they feel like it, take them away. Our rights continue to exist even if no government acknowledges them. It is our right to insist on our rights and to refuse to acquiesce when governments don't respect our dignity. 

What I am saying comes directly from the Declaration of Independence. What could be more American?

Furthermore, carrying this logic even further, the military's participation in warfare does not purchase our rights or our freedoms. We do not need to thank soldiers for "giving us our freedom." Our freedom is a birthright from God. Governments may not respect our freedoms but we have them nonetheless. I should add that government is never more at odds with God-given freedoms than in time of war. It is especially odd that we should thank the military for our freedoms.

As anyone who has served in the military knows, military leaders do not highly regard freedom, particularly the freedom of "enemy" civilians. According to the more conservative statistics, upwards of 100,000 Iraqi civilians have perished in the Iraq War. Other estimates say upwards of half a million. Many thousands more have died in Afghanistan and Pakistan, several at the hands of drone aircraft, safely operated by computer jockeys in the continental U.S. Do those people think their freedoms are being defended? Wonder why they're not grateful to U.S. soldiers for their freedoms?

This is all part of a pattern. The U.S. military treated German and Japanese civilians the same way during World War II. The U.S. military repeated the pattern in Korea and Vietnam. All of these wars were said to be about freedom. All involved heavy civilian casualties. All involved gigantic increases in government power at home and abroad, power that was not totally reversed when peacetime came again. 

Selling arms to a government at war and making loans to a government at war are highly profitable. You can make a real killing, as they say on Wall Street. The wars continue.

When it was about killing people far away, Americans more or less put up with it. After all, them's other countries, other people. They talk funny, worship statues, and pray to the Moon God, probably all bound for Hell anyway, right? Hell, we're just executing God's judgment on the poor suckers. They shoulda been good upstanding Christians like us.

Now that the same cruelty that we have inflicted on foreigners is coming to our shores, a few of us are rightly upset and angry, but I'm afraid it's too little, too late. Cruelty against one is cruelty against all, American or non-American.

On the upside, there's a lot of money to be made in building prisons and building weapons. As American citizens are hauled off to prison indefinitely without due process, the economy will be stimulated and jobs created. Doesn't that make you feel better?

While our feckless Congress can't figure out how to balance the budget, regulate the financial industry, deal with unemployment or keep Social Security solvent, they can all get together to erase the Bill of Rights and enforce the new Police State. 

What should be done? Should we join Occupy Wall Street? Should we write our Congressman? Should we protest? Perhaps. I'm not sure what good all of that will do. I confess I'm not real political myself, and probably that won't change. 

Here's what I can suggest: an Advent meditation to bring us all back to the basic dignity and worth of all people, regardless of citizenship:

For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men. Titus ii:11

I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord. And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger. 

And suddenly there was with the Angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying, Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

St. Luke ii:10-14

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Comments always welcome, pro and con.


  1. Firstly, excellent post. Solid concepts and impressive writing.

    However, there are a couple specifics which might warrant reconsideration. Firstly, you don't seem to make a distinction between "freedom" and "rights," which seems to me like a mistake. Freedom (at least physical freedom) CAN be taken away. One could argue that mental freedom cannot be taken away, but that's tangential to the point. Freedom -- the ability to move about wherever you want or even the simple ability to live -- can most definitely be lost.

    The right to that freedom, on the other hand, is intrinsic to our humanity and cannot be separated from it. Human/natural rights are on a more intangible plain than physical freedom. So one must be careful when using the two terms (rights and freedom) interchangeably.

    The logical consequence of that difference is that a soldier can be thanked for protecting our freedom. A soldier, or a government, can also be thanked for "giving" us our freedom. To thank a soldier for protecting freedom from outside forces is always a good thing. To thank our government for GIVING us our freedom should never be necessary, as freedom is a natural right, and can give the impression that the freedom given is a privilege instead of a right. Thus, thanking a government for "giving" freedom should never occur. I think that's what you were driving at, but your terminology got confusing, at least for me.

    Secondly, if I recall correctly, the Obama administration has vowed to veto the bill, should it reach the President's desk. So there's still some hope that it won't be passed...

    But, like I said, the concepts are sound and the concerns certainly hold a lot of precedence. It's a road we are slowly but surely progressing down. I hope more people will read this article and open their eyes to it.

  2. Thank you, Anonymous.

    Your distinction between "freedom and rights" is a good one, and at some point I will revise the post in light of your comments. I wrote this as a stream of consciousness type of thing, so it wasn't really all that coherent.

    While the bill will likely be vetoed as it stands now, because it is tied to so many other things, my guess is that some sort of compromise will be worked out and it will pass anyway. I note that our president has promised to veto it NOT because it erases what's left of the Bill of Rights, but because it doesn't go far enough, i.e. it prevents the government from prosecuting terrorists more effectively.

    The administration may really be opposed to it on civil liberties grounds, but is using another reason publicly for fear of being accused of weakness in an election season. I'm willing to grant that.

    Besides that, the power given to the American government under this legislation has in essence already been claimed by the government, just not in an official "act of Congress" sort of way. Recall that President Obama acted to execute two American citizens without trial or charges in a foreign country, which has now set a precedent that will be hard to reverse for future administrations.

    Thank you again for your comments, Anonymous.