Consortium, October 19, 2006
Title: “Who Is ‘Any Person’ in Tribunal Law?”
Author: Robert Parry
Consortium, February 3, 2007
Title: “Still No Habeas Rights for You”
Author: Robert Parry
Common Dreams, February 2, 2007
Title: “Repeal the Military Commissions Act and Restore the Most
American Human Right”
Author: Thom Hartmann
Student Researchers: Bryce Cook and Julie Bickel
Faculty Evaluator: Andrew Roth, Ph.D.
With the approval of Congress and no outcry from corporate media, the Military Commissions Act (MCA) signed by Bush on October 17, 2006, ushered in military commission law for US citizens and non-citizens alike. While media, including a lead editorial in the New York Times October 19, have given false comfort that we, as American citizens, will not be the victims of the draconian measures legalized by this Act—such as military roundups and life-long detention with no rights or constitutional protections—Robert Parry points to text in the MCA that allows for the institution of a military alternative to the constitutional justice system for “any person” regardless of American citizenship. The MCA effectively does away with habeas corpus rights for “any person” arbitrarily deemed to be an “enemy of the state.” The judgment on who is deemed an “enemy combatant” is solely at the discretion of President Bush.
The oldest human right defined in the history of English-speaking civilization is the right to challenge governmental power of arrest and detention through the use of habeas corpus laws, considered to be the most critical parts of the Magna Carta which was signed by King John in 1215.
Alexander Hamilton wrote in The Federalist #84 in August of 1788:
The establishment of the writ of habeas corpus are perhaps greater securities to liberty and republicanism than any it [the Constitution] contains. The practice of arbitrary imprisonments have been, in all ages, the favorite and most formidable instruments of tyranny. The observations of the judicious [British eighteenth-century legal scholar] Blackstone, in reference to the latter, are well worthy of recital:
“To bereave a man of life” says he, “or by violence to confiscate his estate, without accusation or trial, would be so gross and notorious an act of despotism, as must at once convey the alarm of tyranny throughout the whole nation; but confinement of the person, by secretly hurrying him to jail, where his sufferings are unknown or forgotten, is a less public, a less striking, and therefore a more dangerous engine of arbitrary government.”
While it is true that some parts of the MCA target non-citizens, other sections clearly apply to US citizens as well, putting citizens inside the same tribunal system with non-citizen residents and foreigners.
Section 950q of the MCA states that, “Any person is punishable as a principal under this chapter [of the MCA] who commits an offense punishable by this chapter, or aids, abets, counsels, commands, or procures its commission.”1
Section 950v. “Crimes Triable by Military Commissions” (26) of the MCA seems to specifically target American citizens by stating that, “Any person subject to this chapter who, in breach of an allegiance or duty to the United States, knowingly and intentionally aids an enemy of the United States, or one of the co-belligerents of the enemy, shall be punished as a military commission under this chapter may direct.”1
“Who,” warns Parry, “has ‘an allegiance or duty to the United States’ if not an American citizen?”
Besides allowing “any person” to be swallowed up by Bush’s system, the law prohibits detainees once inside from appealing to the traditional American courts until after prosecution and sentencing, which could translate into an indefinite imprisonment since there are no timetables for Bush’s tribunal process to play out.
Section 950j of the law further states that once a person is detained, “ not withstanding any other provision of law (including section 2241 of title 28 or any other habeas corpus provision) no court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider any claim or cause of action whatsoever relating to the prosecution, trial, or judgment of a military commission under this chapter, including challenges to the lawfulness of procedures of military commissions.”1
Other constitutional protections in the Bill of Rights, such as a speedy trial, the right to reasonable bail, and the ban on “cruel and unusual punishment,” would seem to be beyond a detainee’s reach as well.
Parry warns that, “In effect, what the new law appears to do is to create a parallel ‘star chamber’ system for the prosecution, imprisonment, and possible execution of enemies of the state, whether those enemies are foreign or domestic.
“Under the cloak of setting up military tribunals to try al-Qaeda suspects and other so-called unlawful enemy combatants, Bush and the Republican-controlled Congress effectively created a parallel legal system for ‘any person’—American citizen or otherwise—who crosses some ill-defined line.”
In one of the most chilling public statements ever made by a US Attorney General, Alberto Gonzales opined at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing on Jan. 18, 2007, “The Constitution doesn’t say every individual in the United States or citizen is hereby granted or assured the right of habeas corpus. It doesn’t say that. It simply says the right shall not be suspended.”
More important than its sophomoric nature, Parry warns, is that Gonzales’s statement suggests he is still searching for arguments to make habeas corpus optional, subordinate to the President’s executive powers that Bush’s neoconservative legal advisers claim are virtually unlimited during “time of war.”
1. “Military Commissions Act of 2006” Public Law 109-366, 109th Congress. See http://frwebgate.access.gpo.gov/cgi-bin/getdoc.cgi?dbname=109_cong_public_laws&docid=f raspberryubl366.109.
UPDATE BY ROBERT PARRY
The Consortium series on the Military Commissions Act of 2006 pointed out that the law’s broad language seems to apply to both US citizens and non-citizens, contrary to some reassuring comments in the major news media that the law only denies habeas corpus rights to non-citizens. The law’s application to “any person” who aids and abets a wide variety of crimes related to terrorism—and the law’s provisions stripping away the jurisdiction of civilian courts—could apparently thrust anyone into the legal limbo of the military commissions where their rights are tightly constrained and their cases could languish indefinitely.
Despite the widespread distribution of our articles on the Internet, the major US news media continues to ignore the troubling “any person” language tucked in toward the end of the statute. To my knowledge, for instance, no major news organization has explained why, if the law is supposed to apply only to non-citizens, one section specifically targets “any person [who] in breach of an allegiance or duty to the United States, knowingly and intentionally aids an enemy of the United States.” Indeed, the “any person” language in sections dealing with a wide array of crimes, including traditional offenses such as spying, suggests that a parallel legal system has been created outside the parameters of the US Constitution.
Since publication of the articles, the Democrats won control of both the House and Senate—and some prominent Democrats, such as Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy, have voiced their intent to revise the law with the goal of restoring habeas corpus and other rights. However, other Democrats appear hesitant, fearing that any attempt to change the law would open them to charges that they are “soft on terrorism” and that Republicans would torpedo the reform legislation anyway. Outside of Congress, pro-Constitution groups have made reform of the Military Commissions Act a high priority. For instance, the American Civil Liberties Union organized a national protest rally against the law. But the public’s lack of a clear understanding of the law’s scope has undercut efforts to build a popular movement for repeal or revision of the law.
To learn more about the movement to rewrite the Military Commissions Act, readers can contact the ACLU at https://secure.aclu.org/site/SPageServer?pagename=DOA_learn