Tough on Innocence, Weak on the Constitution

by TChris

We've heard the rhetoric before. Republicans are repackaging their "tough on crime" speeches as "tough on terror" and complaining that anyone who stands in the way of increasing executive power at the expense of individual rights is "coddling" -- criminals or terrorists, your pick.

And so we have Dennis Hastert saying:

"Democrat Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and 159 of her Democrat colleagues voted today in favor of more rights for terrorists," Hastert said in a statement. "So the same terrorists who plan to harm innocent Americans and their freedom worldwide would be coddled, if we followed the Democrat plan."

The "Democratic plan" is simply to expect the government to obey existing laws rather than brushing them aside with a quick legislative assist, but what is truly offensive and disingenuous about Hastert's attack is the assumption that Democrats want to "coddle terrorists" rather than "protect the innocent." It is astonishing that the GOP, so long distrustful of the ability of government to make decisions wisely, is now populated with members who are certain that the executive branch will never err in taking custody of a suspected terrorist. The rights that protect against a wrongful conviction -- freedom from tortured confessions and a ban against the inherently unreliable evidence that coercion produces, confrontation of witnesses, discovery of evidence, judicial review and more -- can be safely withheld because of ... presidential infallibility?

There is no presumption of innocence in the Republican Bill of Rights. Those who oppose the president's "terrorism" bills recognize that law enforcement agencies -- from the smallest police department to Homeland Security and the CIA -- don't get it right every time. Click on TalkLeft's innocence cases link to see how often the government gets it wrong. Or read about Maher Arar or Brandon Mayfield. Why are Hastert and his ilk so convinced that it is unnecessary to provide terrorism detainees with basic procedural protections that can save the falsely accused from a lifetime of indefinite detention?

It is monstrous that the GOP uses respect for our nation's founding principles as an object of political ridicule and scorn. But it has been monstrous for Republicans to work tirelessly to imprison so many for so long while attacking Democrats for being "soft on crime." And just as it has been frustrating to watch Democrats capitulate on crime (it was Bill Clinton, after all, who signed legislation that severely limited the scope of federal habeas corpus review), it is sad to see Democrats who are unwilling to protect our constitutional values today.

Harry Reid, on the Ed Schultz show today, said there just weren't enough votes to sustain a filibuster. Why not? Why would anyone in the legislative branch tolerate an executive power grab of this dimension? Democrats had the power to stop this arrogant betrayal of the Constitution. Why didn't they exercise that power? Because they didn't want to seem soft on terrorism? What kind of politician are you if you can't explain the difference between "coddling terrorists" and "protecting the innocent from an incompetent branch of government"?

At a time when progressive politics finally seemed to be overcoming a political structure perpetuated by hysteria and lies, the failure of Democrats to unite today in support of core American values is more than disappointing. Those who did not fight for democratic values will look back on today in shame.

< Broder Discovers The Center: The Democratic Agenda | Senate Buckles Under Bush, Passes Military Tribunal, Torture Bill >
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    Re: Tough on Innocence, Weak on the Constitution (none / 0) (#1)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Thu Sep 28, 2006 at 08:10:52 PM EST
    What terrorists? From what I hear most of the detainees are innocent, and that is from the Pentagon itself. DO NOT let them use this strawman.

    Re: Tough on Innocence, Weak on the Constitution (none / 0) (#2)
    by jarober on Thu Sep 28, 2006 at 08:10:52 PM EST
    TChris, perhaps you could explain to us when foreigners gained Constitutional rights allocated to US Citizens. In particular, when did illegal combatants - you know ones fighting without any identifiable uniform/markings, and hiding behind civilians - gain those rights? This bill denies habeus corpus writs to non-citizens.

    Re: Tough on Innocence, Weak on the Constitution (none / 0) (#3)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Thu Sep 28, 2006 at 09:15:28 PM EST
    To Whom Does the Bill of Rights Apply?
    The important point is that the Constitution doesn't apply to Americans, it doesn't apply to citizens, it doesn't even apply to "people." It applies to the federal government. The body of the Constitution tells the federal government what it is allowed to do, and in some places it explains how to do it (election procedures and such). The Bill of Rights tells the federal government what it is not allowed to do.
    ...human rights groups complain that the government is imprisoning and torturing American citizens in violation of the Bill of Rights. But the President tells the press and public not to worry - that only non-Americans are being imprisoned and only terrorists with vital information are being tortured. You can't prove that you're neither a foreigner nor a terrorist, because there has been no impartial judicial hearing in which you have the benefit of an attorney, the right to confront your accusers and cross-examine them, and the judgment of a jury of your peers. But then, you shouldn't have those rights because law-enforcement agencies have information that you're a foreign terrorist. But don't worry; this isn't really happening. All those people confined in Guantanamo, in Iraq, in Afghanistan, and in other countries to which the U.S. government has transferred people? They're certainly guilty and they're certainly foreign - or our government would never have put them in prisons. So go back to sleep. Your government will protect you.

    Re: Tough on Innocence, Weak on the Constitution (none / 0) (#4)
    by roxtar on Fri Sep 29, 2006 at 02:45:54 AM EST
    Mr. Robertson: Are you a citizen or a subject? Citizens understand that the Constitution is the rulebook which government must observe; subjects believe that the government owns their rights, and doles them out to the subjects like candy at Halloween. Of course, edger's response lays it all out for you.

    Re: Tough on Innocence, Weak on the Constitution (none / 0) (#7)
    by jimakaPPJ on Fri Sep 29, 2006 at 06:09:01 AM EST
    Anon - There is this little thing called a "link" that can be used to demonstrate the accuracy of your comment. BTW - Why don't you use a moniker? That way we can know who is writing, and have a record of your positions.

    Re: Tough on Innocence, Weak on the Constitution (none / 0) (#9)
    by jimakaPPJ on Fri Sep 29, 2006 at 06:24:28 AM EST
    Roxtar - Actually edger quoted an article by the Libertarian Harry Browne. The article makes the point that the constitution defines the government's rights, some specific citizen rights and then leaves everything else to the states and the citizens. Which is correct. None of that, of course, has anything to do with the subject at hand, which is how we should handle terrorists, illegal combatants, etc.

    None of that, of course, has anything to do with the subject at hand, which is how we should handle terrorists, illegal combatants, etc. You're absolutely right. It has everything to do with how we should handle people accused of being terrorists, illegal combatants, etc. Of course they have no rights, anymore than you or I or roxstar or anyone else does. The government however, has a serious problem. They have a list of things enshrined in the constitution that they cannot legally do to anyone. Citizen or not. That is twice in two days, Jim. I'm really starting to get tired of agreeing with you. You want my help? Go run for president. No candy for you today. Come back when you can provide links to anything showing that the Constitution or any part of it has been repealed or amended by the idiotic bills passed lately, and when you can start acting like a real citizen instead of a grovelling, boot licking subject. ---edger

    Re: Tough on Innocence, Weak on the Constitution (none / 0) (#11)
    by jimakaPPJ on Fri Sep 29, 2006 at 08:26:39 AM EST
    edger - Thanks for the agreement, and thanks for taking the bait. The bill, as you really know, provides tribunals for those non-citizens accused and/or captured of being terrorists and/or illegal combatants. It will also defines what is and is not torture, and prevents those questioning them from being hauled into court and sued. To the vast majority of Americans, all of that makes sense. To the far Left, it doesn't.

    Re: Tough on Innocence, Weak on the Constitution (none / 0) (#8)
    by kdog on Fri Sep 29, 2006 at 09:31:05 AM EST
    This bill denies habeus corpus writs to non-citizens
    The America I believe in gives all human beings habeus corpus rights. You know...a shining beacon of freedom and liberty. We have become a shadow of our former selves.

    And did they get you to trade your heroes for ghosts? Hot ashes for trees? Hot air for a cool breeze? Cold comfort for change? And did you exchange a walk on part in the war for a lead role in a cage? --edger

    Denial? Well. whatever works for you... ---edger

    Can someone, anyone please tell me one instance in which this warrantless survellience has stopped a terrorist attack since 9/11? If no one can point to such an instance, then can all you journalists out there please stop parroting what the GOP says and state that there is no evidence to support this. That it's 'secret' doesn't cut it any more. Everything this administration does wrong is 'secret' the disclosure of which might affect national security. So what, they're endangering the country.

    Re: Tough on Innocence, Weak on the Constitution (none / 0) (#5)
    by Talkleft Visitor on Fri Sep 29, 2006 at 09:55:31 AM EST
    Very eloquently put, rox! And of course, it's generally children wanting candy at Halloween, isn't it? Not usually adults. ---edger

    Re: Tough on Innocence, Weak on the Constitution (none / 0) (#6)
    by jarober on Fri Sep 29, 2006 at 09:55:31 AM EST
    Edger's answer is a non-answer, as is roxtar. The Constitution governs the Federal Government and the citizens of the US. It doesn't govern arbitrary non-citizens. What this bill does is codify the post-Hamdan treatment of illegal combatants - you know, people fighting out of uniform, using civilians as human shields. In previous wars, the US sometimes summarily executed such people.

    Re: Tough on Innocence, Weak on the Constitution (none / 0) (#15)
    by Dadler on Fri Sep 29, 2006 at 09:55:31 AM EST
    Jim, Why do we need to redefine torture if prisoners are merely being qustioned? The Orewellian "logic" is laughable and deeply disturbing. We are employing the tactics of Sadaam and his ilk, justifying them with our paranoid fear, incompetence and utter lack of imagination and leadership. Worse, it's been shown that torture and abuse do not produce good interrogation results. The tough part for you is this: because the government you so trust here doesn't trust you or any other free American citizen to be informed on an effective level, you can answer with NO actual facts or evidence to claim anything other than the company line. You just have to trust the company, trust the party, despite no track record on their part. Very compliant of you, comrade. The old Kremlin woulda loved a citzen like you. They decide, you follow. That is not the position of a social liberal, a political conservative, or anything you claim to be. Your utterly uncritical nature when it comes to the Bush Administration reveals more than any empty label you might claim on occasion. BTW, I hope you're ready to honor the innocent and tortured whom we've abused in our gulags. After all, by your logic, those innocent caught up are necessary and inevitable. If that is true, then you should thank them for their horrible sacrifice. Apologizing to them is empty, since you think their situation inevitable and necessary for the larger purpose. So you need to thank them for their suffering. Maybe kick in a few bucks, too. --Dadler