Is this justice?
The power to deny habeas corpus puts all Americans at risk

Only time will tell if both houses of the United States Congress have given the president the power to arrest Americans, hold them secretly and indefinitely, without a trial, without the right to habeas corpus, without due process and the ability to confront witnesses brought against them and supply witnesses in their own defense.

But that's what some law professors and writers are contending about the recently passed Detainee Treatment Act, soon to reach the president's desk for his signature.

It seems clear now, however, that though detainees in the "war on terror" have some vague safeguards against suffering the most horrendous tortures, they have absolutely no civil rights as we know them.

The question that remains is this: Can an American president, on his exclusive authority, define who is a terrorist and who is not and have that apply to American citizens? And in so doing send those Americans into to the black pit of detainee "justice," denying them rights all Americans have always had?

A broader question, and perhaps more to the point: Will American citizens put up with one of their own being carted off to a detainee dungeon, if and when they learn about it? Will American politics allow this to happen? What will the Supreme Court say?

Yale law professor Bruce Ackerman, quoted in the New York Times, says the Detainee Treatment Act gives the executive branch of government the power to "declare even an American citizen an unlawful combatant subject to indefinite detention."

And Chris Floyd, with the Web site Truthout, declared the passage of the bill was a "dark hour, indeed . . . when the United States Senate voted to end the constitutional republic . . . giving the president and his agents the power to capture, torture and imprison forever anyone - American citizens included - whom they arbitrarily decide is an `enemy combatant.' "

If these views stand up to legal scrutiny and further interpretation, it means that every person in America is somehow in jeopardy, except a president and that president's inner circle and the people considered to be unquestionably loyal to him.

Why would any presidential administration push for such a law, when the tables could be turned on them, unless they plan on corrupting every presidential election from now on?

If absolute power corrupts, it corrupts absolutely anyone who has too much of it.

If the executive branch of government can suspend habeas corpus and due process for individuals it says are terrorists or terrorist sympathizers, then the supporters of any political party, or any ideological persuasion, are vulnerable to the whims of their political opponents in power.

Habeas corpus is the obligation for the government to offer proof of its charges. Without it, we are literally at the mercy of politicians turned despots.

And the battered Romans knew what that means. Quod severis metes - what you sow, you reap.

V.B. Price is an Albuquerque free-lance writer, author, editor and commentator.
October 7, 2006