In light of that I think it's important to read the actual bill as just passed the House yesterday. Particularly the sections on torture, suspension of habeas corpus and the "definitions" section.
It appears the bill does indeed suspend habeas corpus but it does so for only for "aliens." Defined under the bill thusly: "The term `alien' means a person who is not a citizen of the United States." I guess legal residents are out of luck and that human rights are simply a matter of birth.
But before we citizens breath a sigh of relief that we won't be hearing any knocks on the door in the middle of the night, we should also read through Marty Lederman's take on the bill. Lederman points out that other sections of the bill may be just as dangerous to citizens and non-citizens alike.
But the really breathtaking subsection is subsection (ii), which would provide that UEC is defined to include any person "who, before, on, or after the date of the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, has been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal or another competent tribunal established under the authority of the President or the Secretary of Defense."
Read literally, this means that if the Pentagon says you're an unlawful enemy combatant -- using whatever criteria they wish -- then as far as Congress, and U.S. law, is concerned, you are one, whether or not you have had any connection to "hostilities" at all.
This definition is not limited to Al Qaeda and the Taliban. It's not limited to aliens -- it covers U.S. citizens as well. It's not limited to persons captured or detained overseas. And it is not even limited to the armed conflict against Al Qaeda and the Taliban, authorized by Congress on September 18, 2001. Indeed, on the face of it, it's not even limited to a time of war or armed conflict; it could apply in peacetime.
I don't know about you but the idea that Rumsfeld will be deciding who is and isn't an "unlawful enemy combatant" just doesn't give me much degree of comfort. It's got me questioning my involvement with the Democratic party, this blog and even a few things I've done all in this context.
A few months before the start of the Iraq war President Bush came to my city for a political fundraiser. Naturally it led to a huge protest march.
Being the curious soul I am I bopped down to the march which was winding it's way through the center of downtown. For some reason there was a mix-up in the route of the Presidential motorcade which put it on a path intersecting the march which sent the secret service and the police escorts into a bit of a panic. They wound up stopping the march and holding the protesters back as the President was driven directly past them... and me.
I did what any patriot American would do as the President passed just a few feet from me: I gave him the finger.
I wonder if that would consider me an "unlawful enemy combatant." Conservatives would probably say this question is an example of liberal hyperbole. I hope so.
But I'd really like them to seriously explain what protections we'll have to keep this from happening. What mechanisms in our government will be in place after this bill passes that will keep American citizens from being imprisoned on a presidential whim?
Because "trust us" just doesn't cut it.