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Now Top This, George Orwell

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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.

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