Tuesday, October 31, 2006

A conservative look at Habeas

The liberal side of the political spectrum has been aghast at the Bush Administration's brazenness in so cavalierly eroding the cornerstone of liberty, the Great Writ of habeas corpus. Apologists for the Bush régime point out that the Military Commissions Act of 2006 ("the torture bill") only removes habeas for non-citizen detainees. If you're a red-blooded American terror suspect, you still have habeas, but not if you're Saudi or Yemeni or Canadi. Those non-citizens, the reasoning goes, have no Constitutional rights at all, since they're not citizens under our Constitution.

Thing is, there's a strong conservative response to that viewpoint. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights and the 17 amendments since then provide individuals with certain rights, to be sure, but they also serve an equally important function: they limit the powers of the government. The full scope of the Tenth Amendment is a bit murky, but the underlying intent is clear: "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people." In other words, we don't want the federal government to have any powers not explicitly granted to it.

True conservatives, unlike George W. Bush, believe in limited government. They believe in accountability in government, to which Bush pays lip service but no actual allegiance. They believe in transparency of government, which Bush demands overseas but inhibits at home. It often seems that Bush wants to replace the last words of the Bill of Rights with "reserved ... to the President." True conservatives know that there is no greater threat to the liberty of the nation than the threat from within, the threat of government overreach and abuse of power. Fortunately, conservatives are beginning to awaken to the threat posed by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney.

I've said it before, and I'll say it again: we will never win the war on terror by out-barbarizing the terrorists or by being more bad-ass or more ruthless. The only way to win the war on terror is by standing resolutely for openness, tolerance, and the rule of law — not the rule of law when it's convenient, but the rule of law all the time, even in time of war.

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