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The Enemy Combatant Canard

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Thomas Jefferson and James Madison shared one definition of the term “tyrant”–a ruler who deprived a person of his freedom without operation of law and without accountability before a court. Which perhaps explains why American historians are consistently ranking George W. Bush at the very bottom of the list of all American presidents; the man, ultimately, is guilty of tyranny.

Take Ali Saleh Kahlah al-Marri, accused by the Bush Administration of being an Al Qaeda sleeper agent. Al-Marri says that he came to the United States as a student and had no more sinister objective than to get a college degree. The Bush Adminstration brought charges against him, but as soon as its charges were set to be tested in a courtroom, it got cold feet. Jane Mayer reveals that this decision was against the advice of the career prosecutors handling the case–that the President, apparently lacking faith in the criminal justice system or his own Justice Department, directed al-Marri be seized by the military and held at a facility near Charleston, South Carolina. He’s the sole detainee at the facility, and he’s now been held for seven years. No charges, no due process, subjected to prolonged interrogation using what John Yoo calls the “Bush Program.”

Mayer offers a thorough review of the al-Marri case and the extremely important question it presents. We get a good glimpse of al-Marri and learn that, notwithstanding the difficulty of his confinement, he has quite a sense of humor.

Since prison censors cut many of the hard-news stories out of the papers he received, Marri began sending brig authorities frequent notes about local ads. As Savage recalls it, one note said, “It’s a two-for-one sale on upholstered chairs! I’ll take the purple—you can have the lime green.”

Can a U.S. president wield powers that the Founding Fathers called tyrannical simply by labeling a person an “enemy combatant”? Is that determination final and binding, not subject to challenge in a court? The treatment of al-Marri was another assault on the U.S. Constitution. If sustained, it means the President could arrest anyone and lock him away forever. No right of habeas corpus; no right to present a case to a court. Watch Jane Mayer discuss the case on MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow:

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