Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Rights of Habe[You and Me]

As reported on Daily Kos and in the lead editorial of today's New York Times, The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled 2 to 1 "on Tuesday that detainees held at the prison camp at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, do not have the right to be heard in court." The courts decision marks the most recent step in a long series, since September 11, 2001, that encroach upon basic human rights and further sully our image around the world. Much has been said and written during these past years denouncing American detainment centers, and most of it has been for the good. Yet, I tend to get a little lost when the discussion turns to invocations of the Magna Carta and the sacred rights of man, and let me tell you, I enjoy Magna Carta references as much as the next 13th Century English baron. This is sometimes the case for me -- when heated debate fills the highest chambers only to arrive piecemeal in our newspapers, I find difficulty in my attempt to weigh the sides of the argument.

Having been born and raised in America, instilled with deep reverence for our almost mythic Founding Fathers and their sacred documents, I can easily grasp the argument put forth by the ACLU or the CCR or the countless human rights lawyers fighting for the rights of detainees. Actually, I didn't have to be schooled in American history to understand that human beings should be treated fairly -- even young children quickly grasp the basic indecency of something like slavery. The problem, for me, seems to reside on the other side of a barrier between humanity and policy -- between what we were taught as Americans and what we still fail to overcome.

To appeal to the courts with vague notions such as "humanity" or 800 year old documents, however, will not steer their decision in your favor, because this issue is about Law, about power and those who wield it. Though, watching Attorney General Gonzales speak at the Senate Judiciary hearings, it doesn't actually seem to be about the law either. So I have to ask, "What or whose purpose does it serve to pass the Military Commissions Act into law and not only dispose of the rights of foreign citizens, but also clearly set a pernicious precedent concerning the rights of American citizens?"

Because I continuously fail to comprehend the answers to this question -- and I don't think I'm alone here -- there remain few options for me to continue forward; so, instead, I recently went back and read the U.S. Constitution and The Bill of Rights, along with the latter day amendments. And since a link to the Constitution recently sat on the front page of, it appears as though other people are taking this route. The reading is a bit dry, and yet, as cliche as it may sound, it was worthwhile. Though some debates, such as gun owners' citing the 2nd Amendment to fend off laws against machine guns and waiting periods, still escape me, the experience was illuminating.

Back in my salad years, while visiting a buddy in Upstate New York, I engaged in a spirited discussion with a local police officer. It was 3 AM and I, my buddy and about 20 other guys were on our way home from the local bars, when we decided, in our mob wisdom, to pause in front of my friend's rival fraternity house so that we could better contemplate our options. It only took seconds for a cop car to arrive and the officer to approach the group, instructing us to disband, and in a regrettable moment of dissent, I queried, "Like, you know, what about the right of freedom of assembly?" Thinking back to how I must have looked to this officer -- glassy-eyed, most likely unshaved, oozing the odors of a night out -- only adds to by regret. I then yielded the floor to the officer who took a moment to formulate his rebuttal. This moment lasted no more than a nanosecond and the expression on his face told me that he had been waiting for some college punk to say something like this.

With his finger jabbing my chest and our faces uncomfortably close, he said, "Don't you tell me about the Constitution of the United States of America!" While my actions did not prove it, I held nothing but respect for this guy, if only for the fact that he had to put up with idiots like me every weekend. Partly out of this respect, I did not, in fact, tell him about the Constitution that night, but mainly because I didn't know a damn thing about it. I must have seen a thousand cop shows over the years in which some suspect (normally the guilty ones) thinks he'll outsmart the cops with a line like, "Hey man, I know my rights." That never seems to work, however, though not always because the cops are not infringing upon his rights, but because it's a wise-ass line to say and it only gets Sipowicz fired up. It doesn't matter if you're a First Amendment scholar, you don't get Detective Sipowicz mad.

In an era such as we are in, it isn't a bad idea to know your rights. Sadly, this knowledge will not help you if you are detained in Guantanamo, or even if you're tipsy and mouthing off in Upstate New York, but there still remains a cause for concern, and the court's decision last Tuesday was only the most recent proof of this.

1 comment:

Why all the anonymity? said...

I got arrested after kicking a door (it was not mine) and yelled from the cop car (pig had left my window open) about my right to "life liberty and the pursuit of happybeing". After hearing/seeing the video from the dash-cam (pig had the technology), my lawyer said my case wasn't looking so good.
Give me the fucking keys you,
cocksucker whatthefuck