Tuesday, November 15, 2005

Alito: From Plame Distraction to Bush Liabilty?

Note: This was written before today's development: the administration has formally charged Padilla with a crime. This is a tactic to avoid a Supreme Court showdown, which leaves Bush's assertion of his powers over American citizens intact and to be tested on another day. The relevance of Padilla to the nomination of Sam Alito is diminished not one iota, as the administration is sure to revive its claims in the event of another terror attack, when a wave of national hysteria makes the climate more favorable. The question to be put to Alito remains: Do American citizens have the right to a jury trial as described under the Sixth Amendment, whatever the crime or political climate, during this war that may conceivably have no end? Or does the new war effectively abrogate this right indefinitely, thus fundamentally changing forever the rights under which Americans are born?

A strange curtain of silence has descended over the most important decision facing post 9/11 America: the fate of the Constitution and the "freedom" which George Bush claims to champion for the rest of the world. We wonder whether the constitution Bush envisions for Iraq includes a Bill of Rights for its citizens, and whether that Bill of Rights includes "the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the State and district wherein the crime shall have been committed" as the Sixth Amendment of our magnificent document reads.

Or will this right in Iraq, as here, depend on the whim of whomever happens to be president?

Jose Padilla, an American by birth, was arrested on American soil and publicly denounced by the administration as having planned to explode a "dirty bomb." Bush claims that, as part of the war on terror, he has the authority to lock up anyone he deems a terrorist suspect, indefinitely, without trial, without a lawyer, without even formal charges. So far, the judicial branch has partially checked these un-American ambitions, and held that, at the least, Padilla is entitled to a lawyer.

In June of last year, just as the Padilla case was about to reach an important point in the appeals process, the administration released fresh allegations that Padilla had planned to use natural gas lines to blow up some apartment buildings. We'll never know if the new allegations were timed to correspond with Padilla's appeal, since Padilla, according to Bush's definition of an "enemy combatant," is not entitled to a trial.

With one hand George positions himself as freedom's ultimate champion (hey I like that fellers, "ultimate champion" thas' me!), with the other hand he directs the Justice Department to think of new ways to deny Americans birthrights which have survived social upheavel and a civil war. One of the most novel creations is the extension of traditional wartime powers to this new, non-traditional war that may never end.

One: I, George Bush, have wartime powers, since I have declared a "war on terror" (a ridiculous name since "terror" is an emotion that will always be with us. More correct would be the political tactic of "terrorism.") Two: this war will last a long, long time," as Bush takes pains to emphasize. Therefore: any citizen can be locked up by Bush forever, incommunicado, for the "protection" of the American people. This unlimited power has been challenged by, of all people, Justice Antonin Scalia. Dissenting from the majority which upheld the Bush position in the related case of Yaser Hamdi, another American "enemy combatant," Scalia said that such power "meet[s] the current emergency in a manner the Constitution does not envision..."

The nomination of Judge Sam Alito to the Supreme Court provides Democrats with their best opportunity to show they will defend their countrymen against the rapacious appetite for power that is the hallmark of the Bush administration. As the Padilla case stands now, the courts are hinting that Padilla only has the right to a military tribunal, in which he must prove his innocence rather than the government having to prove his guilt.

The question of how he stands on the Sixth Amendment was never asked of Judge Roberts, before he was confirmed to the Supreme Court. Another fight thrown by the Democrats? If the Democrats have truly found their backbone, the Borking of Alito over insufficient or ambiguous answers regarding the Padilla case can only make them heroes across a swath of the political spectrum that will frighten King George. Whose primary duty, contrary to what he is fond of saying, is not to "protect the American people," (this is nowhere in the Constitution; look it up) but "to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States." This is the oath of office required of all presidents according to Article II, section 1 of the US Constitution.


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