I enjoy reading the NY Times which is often referred to as the "Gray Lady." I don't agree with everything printed there, but I do consider a visit to the their on line version an important part of my morning ritual. Today they had a very interesting idea, but first I'll provide a little background for my excitement over this idea.
I have been greatly disturbed by our country's association with torture and imprisonment without trial. I agree with many that we are in a battle with some very nasty people.
I disagree with those who suggest we have to descend to the level of our enemies in order to be safe.
One of the first sparks of the American Revolution was destruction of the Gaspee, a British ship, in 1772. A Royal Commission was formed with the suggestion that the perpetrators be brought to England for trial since there was no chance of the rebels or patriots depending on your perspective being convicted in the colonies. "An Ocean Away– 1603-1765" provides this perspective.
Learning that Britain intended to try Americans in England, the Virginia House of Burgesses set up a committee to "maintain correspondence … with our sister colonies." The Gaspee affair united the colonies against Britain -- and Britain was aghast.
Yet here we are today hauling "enemy combatants" to Cuba so we can treat them as our executive wills. A great theme in our English history is the opposition to courts which don't operate in the eyes of the public or with juries. Some of you may have heard of the Star Chamber.
Depositions were taken from witnesses, but no jury was employed in the proceedings. Although its sentences included a wide variety of corporal punishments, including whipping, pillorying, and branding, those convicted were never sentenced to death. The court remained active through the reigns of James I and Charles I. The traditional hostility between equity and common law was aggravated by the use made of the Star Chamber by the Stuarts as a vehicle for exercising the royal prerogative, particularly over church matters, in defiance of Parliament.
Fortunately for England the Star Chamber was abolished by the Long Parliament in 1641. In the light of this history, here we are in 2005. Our Senate, by a vote of 90-9, has proposed taking the high road and outlawing torture, something which many never thought would be necessary in the United States of America.
Yet the administration has proposed to use its first veto on this bill if it passes. There is no certainty that it will since it has to go to conference with the House. Even more startling than the veto is Vice President Cheney campaigning for a "torture exemption" for the CIA. I trust John McCain when he says that no good information comes from torture and it endangers our own soldiers. In the end torture is just wrong. The ends even if they were good would not justify the means.
This is from the Washington Post article, "Torture, Shaming Us All."
The Bush administration's effort is being led by Vice President Cheney, who -- give him credit -- is indomitably shameless. Given the ridiculous things he said in the run-up to the war, you'd have thought the man would have sought the contemplative life and retreated to some swell retirement community. But he not only perseveres, he has become the unashamed lobbyist for torture.
So this is where I think the NY Times has a great idea. In their editorial, "President Bush's Walkabout," I think they have provided President Bush with a fantastic suggestion.
Right now, the vice president is devoting himself to beating back Congressional legislation that would prohibit the torture of prisoners. This is truly a remarkable set of priorities: his former chief aide was indicted, Mr. Cheney's back is against the wall, and he's declared war on the Geneva Conventions.
Mr. Bush cannot fire Mr. Cheney, but he could do what other presidents have done to vice presidents: keep him too busy attending funerals and acting as the chairman of studies to do more harm.
I think I might even know some funerals where his presence should be required. Just maybe that would be a first step to ending what has been a disastrous time for our country. There are other signs that might lead to some scrutiny of the new war powers. The Supreme Court is going to review these extraordinary powers that this administration has given itself. This is from the Post article, "High Court To Hear Case On War Powers."
The Supreme Court yesterday agreed to rule on the legality of the Bush administration's planned military commissions for accused terrorists, setting up what could be one of the most significant rulings on presidential war powers since the end of World War II.
President Bush has claimed broad power to conduct the war against al Qaeda and said that questions about the detention of suspected terrorists, their interrogation, trial and punishment are matters for him to decide as commander in chief.
Going to war shouldn't be easy nor should holding someone without trial. No one person should be deciding the fate of others. It's a mockery of our long held judicial traditions. I guess some people terrified of attacks on our own soil are willing to allow our government to go to any lengths to create the false sense of security that governments are so good at projecting. That might rationalized as okay as long as those powers never get mistakenly turned against you. Unfortunately if they do, there is no way out, and no hope.
In spite of the unconventional enemy, I think we're better off sticking with the rules that have served us well since the founding of our country. We've never been a perfect country, but until the last few years, most of the world looked up to us a shining example. I'm afraid that is no longer the case.