Sunday, March 30, 2008

The sun: Nothing New Under Department

Today, boys and girls, we turn to a couple of excellent legal writers to tell us that George II is just following in the footsteps of Charles I and the Federalist John Adams. Spot finds it oddly comforting to consider that George Bush is not an innovative charlatan, but merely a charlatan.

Consider Charles I of England. A monarch beheaded for treason - consider that for a moment, boys and girls: a king adjudged guilty for crimes against his own Crown, himself in other words - who found the courts, weak and ineffective as they were in England at the time, to be a nuisance to avoided:

In England of the seventeenth century, the Stuart monarchs gradually found the court system to be entirely too much of a bother. Of course, they would pick the judges and keep them in line with promises of royal favor or the reverse, and they developed the cajoling of juries into a high art form, often enough promising retribution against jurors who failed to render the desired verdict. But the bottom line was that this legal system was simply too unpredictable. Why, it actually dispensed justice in some cases. And that was decidedly not what the monarch desired—or to put it more in the framework of the times, it was the King’s justice that they were after, a particular and personal flavor. So some cures were crafted. One was the use of military tribunals to try cases—tribunals which immediately dispensed the justice that the sovereign desired. And another was the practice of putting prisoners, especially those in political cases, on boats and shipping them off to places where the hated writs of the English courts, and particularly the writ most in disfavor, habeas corpus, did not run—to the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man, and even on occasion to America.

Much of the reign of the Bush dynasty has been an exercise in reliving the mistakes of the seventeenth century, and in short order we have seen Bush resort to each of [these] techniques of the Stuart monarchs so close to his heart. And now we leap forward some three hundred and fifty years to discover that we have an Administration intent on dispensing not American justice, but Bush justice–and that it’s best doing this with a sleight of hand worthy of a Stuart monarch.

That's Scott Horton, writing on his blog, No Comment. As Horton points out, the architect of a lot of this seventeenth century thinking is John Yoo, Professor Organ Failure. The avoidance of habeas corpus and military commissions to try "certain" prisoners are the acts of a monarch, or as John Yoo might put it, a unitary executive.

The second legal writer that Spot wants to quote today is Anthony Lewis, the author of the award-winning Gideon's Trumpet and the author of the new book Freedom for the Thought We Hate. Here's Lewis on page 21 of the book:

But one feature of the Sedition Act did not disappear: the political use of fear to justify repression. Again and again in American history the public has been told that civil liberties must be sacrifices to protect the country from foreign threats. There have been repeated examples of what Richard Hofstadter called "the paranoid style in American politics." As in 1798, when the Federalists spoke of French terror to justify the Sedition Act, so in the twentieth century Congress many laws branding as infamous anyone who was suspected of a Communist taint; politicians from the 1920s through Richard Nixon and Joe McCarthy won votes by charging their opponents with being soft on communism. In the "war on terror" in the twenty-first century, President George W. Bush persuaded Congress to deprive alleged "enemy combatants" of legal rights in order, he said, to keep the country safe.

James Madison [a principal drafter of the Constitution] foresaw the problem. Two months before the Sedition Act was passed, in a letter to Vice President Jefferson, he wrote: "Perhaps it is a universal truth that the loss of liberty at home is to be charged to provisions against danger, real or pretended, from abroad."

When the witless cowboy George Bush proclaimed that "everything changed on 9/11," he actually proclaimed his historical ignorance once again. Terrorism as a political force is very old, some placing its roots with the Jewish Zealots, the Sicairii. It is a tool of the dispossessed, usually inflamed by nationalist or religious sentiments.

The notion that we can "beat" terrorism is laughable and naïve. We could just as well declare war on human nature.

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