Friday, September 22, 2006

What Did They Fight For?

Produce the Body
While we focus on the immoral "torture" part of the new torture bill, we're missing a more insidious little tid-bit: removing the right to a trial.

In England, way back in 1679, it was made illegal to stuff people in prison without charges and leave them there to rot. This was done because imprisonment had become the government's favorite means of suppression. Parliament thought this was a really bad idea, mostly because the peasantry had become so fed up with being silenced in this way, that the Lords who ran Parliament were in fear for their lives. So Parliament wised-up and passed a law to stop the practice.

Note: In the following excerpt, I'm removing the long lists of people to whom one can appleal, the lists of who can make appeals, who can be served a writ, and shortening other lists, such as "warrant or warrants" and removing some adjectival expressions to shorten the text and make it easier to understand. The full text is available here:

Note 2: "Habeus Corpus" below means "show me the defendant" (or literally, "produce the body")

... it shall and may be lawful to and for the person or persons so committed or detained ... or any one on his or their behalf, to appeal or complain to ... any one of his Majesty's justices ... (4) and the said ... justices... are hereby authorized and required ... to award and grant an habeas corpus..., (5) to be directed to the officer or officers in whose custody the party so committed or detained shall be, returnable immediate before the said ... justice; (6) and upon service thereof ... the officer shall ... bring such prisoner or prisoners before the said ... justice ... true causes of the commitment ... (7) and thereupon within two days after the party shall be brought before them, the ... justice ... shall discharge the said prisoner from his imprisonment, taking his or their recognizance, with one or more surety or sureties, in any sum according to their discretions, having regard to the quality of the prisoner and nature of the offense, for his or their appearance in the court of the ... city or place where ... the offense was committed, or in such other court where the said offense is properly cognizable ... (8) unless it shall appear ... that the party so committed is detained upon a legal ... warrant ... for such matters or offenses for the which by the law the prisoner is not bailable.

Or, in short: Every prisoner must have his or her day in court. Every prisoner should be able to defend themselves against accusations - just in case those accusations turn out to be nothing more than the spite of someone who doesn't like you.

Prior to that, the Magna Carta, in 1225, had granted the same:

To any man whom we have deprived or dispossessed of lands, castles, liberties, or rights, without the lawful judgement of his equals, we will at once restore these.

This concept has been recognized as a basic element of civilized societies for 781 Years.

In dictatorships, the "Writ of Habeus Corpus" does not exist - prisoners have no right to trial, no right to defend themselves. Heck, they don't even have to be accused of any crime. They can simply be tossed into some dingy hell-hole because they pissed off the wrong person. In such countries, the government gets in the habit of "disappearing" people it doesn't like.

Until now, we in the United States have firmly believed in freedom. Until now, we have believed the fact that people shouldn't be thrown in prison unless they had done something wrong. Until now, we have believed that everyone has the right to defend themselves in a court of law. Until now, we have believed that people who didn't commit any crime should be allowed to live free.

Until Now.

For hundreds of years, people have given up their lives, their limbs, their youth to defend those rights.

But those who, upon taking office, swear to protect those rights against ALL threats have decided to turn their backs on freedom:

I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.

Those we trusted to care for the most precious element of our democracy - our freedom - are ready to sign it away. Cowadice pushes them to want to appear "tough." They are not brave enough to keep our democracy alive.

The fertile field of democracy, first planted 230 years ago, has been abandoned to a harvest of fear.

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