18 July, 2008

The erosion of rights

I gave a talk to a group of civic and business leaders on Wednesday. The topic given me was "the PATRIOT Act after 9/11." Of course, being an academic, I looked at the trends well before 9/11.

Some people seemed surprised by how long the process eroding our rights has been going on, and many were surprised by just how far it has already gone. The complicity of the courts is eye-opening, too. Consider the most recent ruling on "enemy combatants," the Al-Marri decision. A longer review, from Glenn Greenwald, is here. But lets just look at what the panel of judges of the Fourth Circuit Court put into the text of their opinions. Everyone accepts that

In the words of the majority opinion, this didn't matter.
What matters is whether the President labels one an "enemy combatant." Attach that label, and you can can be placed in detention (in al-Marri's case, solitary confinement) for years. Hell, the government can lock you up forever.

So what, you ask? He's probably guilty of something? Besides, he's not even a citizen. Actual guilt and citizenship have nothing to do with the precedent. In the words of another judge on the court,

And that means

Sleep well, America.

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