HABEAS CORPUS, 1305-2006Complications Ensue
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Thursday, September 28, 2006

The privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.
US Constitution, Article 1, Section 9
Congress just passed a bill abolishing the right of habeas corpus for, well, pretty much anyone the President says is an enemy combatant. The last time habeas corpus was suspended was during the Civil War.

I'm reading Will Ferguson's charming and fascinating book Hitching Rides with Buddha. He met a man who was a Japanese soldier in Saipan during the American invasion of that island. The Japanese had been told the Americans would perform horrible atrocities against them. So vast numbers of them committed suicide. Men, women and children. This particular man wept as he recounted how the Americans had, in fact, taken very good care of their prisoners.

We don't need to respect the Geneva Convention to convince the enemy to respect our troops. Al Qaeda doesn't respect anything. But as ought to be obvious by now, we're in a guerrilla war, and guerrilla wars are won by ideas and culture, not mere destruction of enemy combatants.

The way we win the battle for hearts and minds is where the Muslim in the street knows that we don't torture. He knows we stand for an ideal. An ideal he can see the sense of, and possibly long for. I read a book by retired US Army interrogator Chris Mackey called The Interrogators; he said that one of his prisoners finally broke when he realized he was not going to be tortured. And that, therefore, we were better than he had been told.

I know what we're supposed to stand for, but I don't see much evidence of it. An innocent Canadian is sent by America to be tortured in Syria. And we're supposed to believe all the guys at Guantanamo are guilty? When they haven't had a trial?

We stand for freedom and democracy, except when the generals in Thailand topple the prime minister. Then, not a peep.

How do you fight a war of culture and ideas when you don't stand by your own culture and ideals?

We are strong enough to fight a few thousand medieval fanatics without throwing out the Constitution. But more importantly, we will never defeat the fanatics by throwing out the Constitution.

Or to paraphrase Ben Franklin: "They that give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety. shall get neither liberty nor safety."


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