Human Rights, Torture and the Presidency
By Naomi Wolf / February 28, 2008
I just flew back from Australia, where I was speaking about the erosions of our civil liberties. Believe me, the rest of the world is agog at our inaction as what makes us Americans is being set aflame; and they are more scared of what an unsheathed US could do to the rest of the world than we are.
They also get more news out in the rest of the world about these depredations than we do here in our media bubble.
For instance: As the Australian reported earlier this week, New South Wales Justice of the Peace Mamdouh Habib is suing the Australian federal government — which under the Howard administration had colluded with the US in committing various abuses against detainees and due process — for having allowed him to be arrested wrongly in Pakistan in 2001, kidnapped and sent illegally to Egypt. There this Justice of the Peace was illegally imprisoned and tortured for six months. After that the United States held him for FOUR YEARS in Guantanamo. His complaint notes that he is a law-abiding citizen who was swept up under false pretexts. “It turns out that Habib has incontrovertible proof of his good standing,” the Australian noted. “[H]e is a fully accredited Justice of the Peace in NSW.
A search of the NSW Attorney General’s Department website reveals that not only Habib, but his wife Maha Habib, is a JP.” To become justice of the peace in New South Wales, the Australian added, “you have to be NOMINATED BY A MEMBER OF THE NSW PARLIAMENT and submit to a full character inquiry, including a criminal records check by NSW Police.” (ALL CAPS mine)
Get that? A justice of the peace in a developed-world democracy. Had you heard of that?
This gave me chills because, once again, it is so scarily predictable: when I first started trying to alert people about the ramifications of the Military Commissions Act, and how it gives the US power to seize innocent people off the street simply by the President’s naming them ‘enemy combatants’, I pointed out that nothing would prevent the US from rendering an EU minister off the streets of Belgium — and flying him or her to a `black site’ for torture — if he or she opposed a US pipeline plan, or was prosecuting US war criminals such as Rumsfeld in the Hague. And that the clear lesson of Germany and other closing societies such as Argentina is that once those ‘disappearances’ begin, that is it; few are then brave enough to object — and at that point objection is too weak to be effective anyway.
They rendered an Australian justice of the peace — and that rendition did not even make the US news. So how can we be sure there is something so sacred about an American justice of the peace or even a judge? Say, an American judge who ruled against the Military Commissions?
This kind of leap to the next level of threat to us as citizens seems implausible to many people because they assume that there is an orderly and effective democratic response to this kind of eruption of lawlessness — (oh gosh, actually it isn’t lawlessness any more, now is it) — or, I should say, to this kind of abrupt shift to a heightened level of state sadism; Well — someone would bring charges!, one assumes. Or: someone would sue! Or: surely the ACLU would do something!
But seriously, I ask you to consider: What would indeed happen as a countermove if a US justice of the peace or a judge was rendered? The Bar Association would protest? Scary. Intimidating.
I raise this as an urgent matter in part because of a recent conference call I participated in with Hamid Khan, the head of the courageous movement of Pakistani lawyers and judges. In the call, which he made in spite of great danger to himself and probably to his family, there was a moment when he described the internecine warfare and factionalism of the opposition to Musharraf.
In his voice was the tired, frustrated sound I have heard so often in this country when groups on the left JUST CAN’T GET IT TOGETHER. No matter how urgent the need is. Whereas in Pakistan’s case they were having trouble getting the anti-Musharraf forces to act together — and there was so much at stake.
What became clear from that call is that we are fools to assume that if the government makes a dramatically violent move, which all the laws I have highlighted now make entirely possible, that anyone will know clearly what to do or how to implement what should be done in response. In Pakistan, it was clear, in spite of this powerful grassroots movement, no one had a clear Plan B when Musharraf declared a state of emergency and began rounding up the lawyers and arresting the judges. No one had an unquestioned leadership structure in place for the countermovement; no one had a subcontinent-sized phone tree or a nice big — oh, nation-sized — conference room in which to meet.
We need to consider this right now when we think about our own country: In a sudden sharp move on the part of the US government, even a `small’ one such as this imagined scenario of the rendition of a handful of US judges, there is nothing a democracy is prepared effectively to do; that is the nature of democracy. There is no War Room for democracy; no one has an organizational chart detailing who would do what; no one would have a master strategy.
When people think about the many laws that invite this kind of overreaching now in the US — the National Security Presidential Directive (NSPD 51), for instance, that would give the President control over all branches of government — executive, legislative, and judicial — in the event of an emergency — they just assume that, gosh darn it, WE WON’T TAKE IT. And it may well be that we wouldn’t want to take it and we would be willing in great numbers to run to the ramparts. But here is what I have to report to you, that the conference call made clear, and my Pakistani friend would confirm this: in a crackdown, even in the best-case scenario, NO ONE KNOWS WHERE THE RAMPARTS ARE.
Read all of it here
From David Hamilton / The Rag Blog