Thursday, July 3, 2008

In Praise of Rosa Brooks

Rosa Brooks has a terrific column today in the LA Times. It's exactly what an op-ed column should be: incisive, wity, topical, and most importantly, correct in its analysis. Pushing back against the oft-invoked "the Constitution is not a suicide pact" argument, Brooks writes:

This Fourth of July, celebrate by rereading the Declaration of Independence, created by more or less the same crowd who brought us the Constitution, 11 years and one war later. Remember it? "We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness." Wild stuff! To the founders, "all men" have "unalienable rights" -- not just U.S. citizens in the continental United States. (If the founding fathers were around today, Rush Limbaugh and Rudy Giuliani would pillory them as limp-wristed, latte-drinking, soft-on-terror liberals.) It was treasonous stuff too. When the Declaration of Independence was drafted, there were no U.S. citizens: Instead, there were about 2.5 million scrappy Colonists who legally owed allegiance to the king of England, George III. But they went to war -- over the little matter of freedom, law and unalienable, God-given rights. Among their grievances against King George, the rebellious Colonists complained that he ignored the will of their representative bodies, refused "his assent to laws for establishing judiciary powers" and "affected to render the military independent of and superior to the civil power." The Colonists also objected to the denial of "the benefit of trial by jury" and the king's practice of avoiding the inconveniences of due process by transporting prisoners "beyond seas to be tried for pretended offenses." (George III would have loved Guantanamo.) The founders had a word for governments that respected rights only arbitrarily and selectively: tyranny.

8 comments:

Patrick R. Sullivan said...

This seems confused. Is it your position that the captives in the wars against the Barbary Pirates--the 18th century equivalent of Al Qaeda--were allowed their days in American courts?

Economics of Contempt said...

If by "allowed their days in American courts," you mean allowed a chance to challenge their continued detention in a federal court, then yes, it is my position. It's also the Supreme Court's position.

Giving detainees a chance to challenge their detention isn't the same thing as letting them go free, or appeasing terrorists, or whatever. Maybe you're confused, but the rule of law still applies on Guantanamo, believe it or not.

Patrick R. Sullivan said...

You really think that, in Thomas Jefferson's America, captured Barbary Pirates were allowed to challenge their detention in American courts?

That is one of most remarkable assertions I've ever seen. What's your source for it?

Economics of Contempt said...

I'm not saying that Barbary pirates actually appeared in federal court to challenge their detention. However, the fact that no Barbary pirates appeared in federal court doesn't prove that the Supreme Court got it wrong in Boumediene (or Rasul). The Barbary pirates aren't at all equivalent to the detainees at Guantanamo; if alleged Barbary pirates had been captured and then held at a base like Guantanamo, but insisted they weren't Barbary pirates at all, then they should have been able to challenge their status as Barbary pirates in federal court.

The only assertion I'm making is the same assertion that the Supreme Court made -- namely, that Guantanamo detainees have a constitutional right to challenge their status as "enemy combatants," and thus their continued detention. The procedures set up in the MCA aren't sufficient, so their right extends to federal court. That's a decidedly unremarkable assertion. It would have been remarkable if the Court had gone the other way.

Patrick R. Sullivan said...

You praised Rosa Brooks' column, which ends:

The Constitution is no "suicide pact," but the people who founded this nation risked war, prison and death for the sake of unalienable human rights. Their values guided us through good times and bad, through the Civil War, two world wars and the Cold War. But today, some Americans seem happy to discard those same precious values in the name of "security."

Sometimes I wonder: If the founders could have foreseen this, would they have bothered to fight the Revolutionary War?


That pretty strongly suggests that the current President is doing something different than prior wartime Presidents. Yet, you admit you can't cite any historic cases of prisoners taken in battle being allowed to challenge their situation.

When you have no cases to cite, you're losing the argument.

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