Sunday, March 8, 2009

March 7, 2009

      President Obama is moving back toward constitutional government, but slowly.  The Supreme Court, which Obama of course does not control, took one step yesterday, vacating a lower court ruling that the president can indefinitely detain a legal U.S. resident he says us a terrorism suspect.  The Court didn't say the lower court ruling was wrong, just that it was moot because the Obama administration has indicted the alleged terrorist and plans to put him on trial.  It's a step.
      Obama's Attorney General, Eric Holder, has denounced water boarding as torture.  The Bush administration used it.  It's another step.
     And federal officials have finished compiling dossiers on 241 detainees in custody at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.  Some of them, at least, are likely to be transferred to other jurisdictions, eventually to stand trial.  It's another step.
     The Bush administration apparently believed that the Constitution doesn't count in wartime.  The Fourth Amendment says you can't search people or papers or houses without a warrant.  Mr. Bush thought you could because we were fighting terrorism and needed to ignore some rights.  The Fifth Amendment says you can't be held for a crime unless you're indicted.  The Sixth says the accused is entitled to a speedy, public trial.  The Bush administration thought it was okay to arrest suspected terrorists and hold them--no charges, no lawyer, no trial--forever.
      Individual rights usually take a beating in wartime;  President Lincoln suspended habeas corpus--the accused's right to appear in court and hear the charges against him--during the Civil War.  Mr. Bush certainly suspended some rights during this war.  Now we seem to be moving back toward the rule of law.  How many steps?  How quickly?  We don't know.    

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