American Prison Camps Are on the
by Marjorie Cohn
www.alternet.org, October 9, 2006.
The Military Commissions Act of 2006 governing
the treatment of detainees is the culmination of relentless fear-mongering
by the Bush administration since the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Because the bill was adopted with lightning
speed, barely anyone noticed that it empowers Bush to declare
not just aliens, but also U.S. citizens, "unlawful enemy
Bush & Co. has portrayed the bill
as a tough way to deal with aliens to protect us against terrorism.
Frightened they might lose their majority in Congress in the November
elections, the Republicans rammed the bill through Congress with
little substantive debate.
Anyone who donates money to a charity
that turns up on Bush's list of "terrorist" organizations,
or who speaks out against the government's policies could be declared
an "unlawful enemy combatant" and imprisoned indefinitely.
That includes American citizens.
The bill also strips habeas corpus rights
from detained aliens who have been declared enemy combatants.
Congress has the constitutional power to suspend habeas corpus
only in times of rebellion or invasion. The habeas-stripping provision
in the new bill is unconstitutional and the Supreme Court will
likely say so when the issue comes before it.
Although more insidious, this law follows
in the footsteps of other unnecessarily repressive legislation.
In times of war and national crisis, the government has targeted
immigrants and dissidents.
In 1798, the Federalist-led Congress,
capitalizing on the fear of war, passed the four Alien and Sedition
Acts to stifle dissent against the Federalist Party's political
agenda. The Naturalization Act extended the time necessary for
immigrants to reside in the U.S. because most immigrants sympathized
with the Republicans.
The Alien Enemies Act provided for the
arrest, detention and deportation of male citizens of any foreign
nation at war with the United States. Many of the 25,000 French
citizens living in the U.S. could have been expelled had France
and America gone to war, but this law was never used. The Alien
Friends Act authorized the deportation of any non-citizen suspected
of endangering the security of the U.S. government; the law lasted
only two years and no one was deported under it.
The Sedition Act provided criminal penalties
for any person who wrote, printed, published, or spoke anything
"false, scandalous and malicious" with the intent to
hold the government in "contempt or disrepute." The
Federalists argued it was necessary to suppress criticism of the
government in time of war. The Republicans objected that the Sedition
Act violated the First Amendment, which had become part of the
Constitution seven years earlier. Employed exclusively against
Republicans, the Sedition Act was used to target congressmen and
newspaper editors who criticized President John Adams.
Subsequent examples of laws passed and
actions taken as a result of fear-mongering during periods of
xenophobia are the Espionage Act of 1917, the Sedition Act of
1918, the Red Scare following World War I, the forcible internment
of people of Japanese descent during World War II, and the Alien
Registration Act of 1940 (the Smith Act).
During the McCarthy period of the 1950s,
in an effort to eradicate the perceived threat of communism, the
government engaged in widespread illegal surveillance to threaten
and silence anyone who had an unorthodox political viewpoint.
Many people were jailed, blacklisted and lost their jobs. Thousands
of lives were shattered as the FBI engaged in "red-baiting."
One month after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, United
States Attorney General John Ashcroft rushed the U.S.A. Patriot
Act through a timid Congress. The Patriot Act created a crime
of domestic terrorism aimed at political activists who protest
government policies, and set forth an ideological test for entry
into the United States.
In 1944, the Supreme Court upheld the
legality of the internment of Japanese and Japanese-American citizens
in Korematsu v. United States. Justice Robert Jackson warned in
his dissent that the ruling would "lie about like a loaded
weapon ready for the hand of any authority that can bring forward
a plausible claim of an urgent need."
That day has come with the Military Commissions
Act of 2006. It provides the basis for the President to round-up
both aliens and U.S. citizens he determines have given material
support to terrorists. Kellogg Brown & Root, a subsidiary
of Cheney's Halliburton, is constructing a huge facility at an
undisclosed location to hold tens of thousands of undesirables.
In his 1928 dissent in Olmstead v. United
States, Justice Louis Brandeis cautioned, "The greatest dangers
to liberty lurk in insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well
meaning but without understanding." Seventy-three years later,
former White House spokesman Ari Fleischer, speaking for a zealous
President, warned Americans "they need to watch what they
say, watch what they do."
We can expect Bush to continue to exploit
9/11 to strip us of more of our liberties. Our constitutional
right to dissent is in serious jeopardy. Benjamin Franklin's prescient
warning should give us pause: "They who would give up an
essential liberty for temporary security, deserve neither liberty
Marjorie Cohn, a professor at Thomas Jefferson
School of Law, is president-elect of the National Lawyers Guild,
and the U.S. representative to the executive committee of the
American Association of Jurists. Her new book, "Cowboy Republic:
Six Ways the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law," will be published
in 2007 by PoliPointPress.