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Yesterday, White House press spokesman Tony Snow assailed the Fourth Circuit’s ruling that President Bush does not have the power to lock away people lawfully in the United States forever without charges. Says Snow:
Are you saying that detaining people who are plucked off the battlefields is an assault on democracy? Are you kidding me? You’re talking about the people who were responsible for supporting the Taliban, somehow detaining them is an assault on democracy?
The battlefield that Al-Marri was “plucked off of” was an apartment complex in West Peoria, Illinois, where he had been living, under constant observation, for many months. He was a computer science student at Bradley University at the time. He was arrested not using the commander-in-chief authority of the president, but rather using normal criminal justice process, by the FBI. Long after his arrest, a decision was made within the government to change the terms of his detention and to transfer him into the custody of the military. Why exactly? Well, the Fourth Circuit explored that in some detail. The Bush Administration offered no explanation. But the Fourth Circuit found a public statement by Attorney General John Ashcroft indicating that the purpose of the transfer was so that he could be more effectively interrogated. That is so say, so that enhanced interrogation techniques such as waterboarding, long-time standing, hypothermia, and sleep deprivation could be used on him. So virtually every statement that Snow made during the press conference yesterday on this score was a studied lie.
And at the end we have the real whopper: it is the essence of democracy, he suggests, for the president to place someone who is lawfully in the country on a student visa under military detention, beyond the review of any court, and torture him. Actually, the powers that Snow supposes to be vested in the president match an established category of governance that would have been easily recognizable to Aristotle. The word is tyranny: long defined as a system in which a single ruler has unchallenged power to detain and punish his subjects.
The point here is not to say that Al-Marri is an innocent lamb, but rather that if the Bush Administration believes he is guilty of complicity in terrorist schemes, he should be charged and brought to trial, and the charges should be proved. You know, that old fashioned thing, justice–in which we allow people to confront the charges brought against them and make their case. It’s a simple concept. And one that’s being slowly forgotten in the White House’s political hyperventilation.
More from Scott Horton:
Six Questions — October 18, 2014, 8:00 pm
Nathaniel Raymond on CIA interrogation techniques.
I recently spent a semester teaching writing at an elite liberal-arts college. At strategic points around the campus, in shades of yellow and green, banners displayed the following pair of texts. The first was attributed to the college’s founder, which dates it to the 1920s. The second was extracted from the latest version of the institution’s mission statement:
The paramount obligation of a college is to develop in its students the ability to think clearly and independently, and the ability to live confidently, courageously, and hopefully.
Let us take a moment to compare these texts. The first thing to observe about the older one is that it is a sentence. It expresses an idea by placing concepts in relation to one another within the kind of structure that we call a syntax. It is, moreover, highly wrought: a parallel structure underscored by repetition, five adverbs balanced two against three.
Percentage of Britons who cannot name the city that provides the setting for the musical Chicago:
An Australian entrepreneur was selling oysters raised in tanks laced with Viagra.
A naked man believed to be under the influence of LSD rammed his pickup truck into two police cars.
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“Shelby is waiting for something. He himself does not know what it is. When it comes he will either go back into the world from which he came, or sink out of sight in the morass of alcoholism or despair that has engulfed other vagrants.”