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Imagine a country where torture is banned, but the president can define what torture is at his own will; A country where the president could imprison indefinitely anyone he decides falls under a wide-ranging new definition of unlawful combatant; A country that suspends the writ of habeas corpus; A country where those who may have engaged in torture are immunized retroactively.
Stop imagining. That country exists, and I'm not talking about North Corea. Today, the US Senate approved President Bush's detainee legislation, so all the above statements are now part of the law in the US. But lets dig on this subject a little more.
The definition of torture
Torture is any act by which severe pain, whether physical or psychological, is intentionally inflicted on a person as a means of intimidation, deterrence, revenge, punishment, sadism, information gathering, or to obtain false confessions for propaganda or political purposes.
When I read this in Wikipedia, is pretty straight forward. But according to recent Bush words, while discussing the Geneva Convention, the definition of torture is to vague. The solution? Give Mr. Bush the ability to define it at is own will.
The definition of unlawful combatant
Again from Wikipedia, and I quote:
The four Geneva Conventions provide protection for people who fall into enemy hands. They envisage war in its traditional form, whereby people in uniforms fight clearly defined enemies in uniform, within a clearly defined arena. It therefore divides people into two explicit groups: combatants and non-combatants (civilians). There is a third group whose existence is implied in legal discourse, but whose existence and treatment are not covered in treaties. These are unlawful combatants, such as spies, mercenaries and other combatants who have broken the laws of war, for example by firing on an enemy while flying a white flag. Whilst combatants and non-combatants are provided substantial protection, a lesser level of protection is afforded to unlawful combatants.
So, unlawful combatants are those who have broken the laws of war. But when you fight suicide bombers, how can you ever imprison someone? The guys who could have broke the law of war (like killing civilians) are already dead! On what charges are those guys detained in Guantanamo? Are they all spies? Or is it because they didn't wear any uniform?
The definition of habeas corpus
As stated in the Letric Law Library, and I quote:
Lat. "you have the body". Prisoners often seek release by filing a petition for a writ of habeas corpus. A writ of habeas corpus is a judicial mandate to a prison official ordering that an inmate be brought to the court so it can be determined whether or not that person is imprisoned lawfully and whether or not he should be released from custody.
I'm no lawyer, but my first impression is that the writ of habeas corpus exists in order to protect the people from arbitrary and lawless states. Well, the US Supreme thinks the same:
In Brown v. Vasquez, 952 F.2d 1164, 1166 (9th Cir. 1991), cert. denied, 112 S.Ct. 1778 (1992), the court observed that the Supreme Court has "recognized the fact that`[t]he writ of habeas corpus is the fundamental instrument for safeguarding individual freedom against arbitrary and lawless state action.' ...
Hummmm, it looks like the state is giving himself the power to decide when and how people can have the right to writ of habeas corpus. In other terms, the state is granting himself the power to manipulate the fundamental instrument for safeguarding individual freedom against arbitrary and lawless state action. Isn't this the first step for an arbitrary and lawless state?
Why is no one doing something about it?
What shocks me most is US citizens aren't aware (or don't give a shit) of this. In the name of national security, americans are passively seeing (and allowing) the death of democracy has we now it. And all this because they are in war against regimes that are not democratic, or at least not has we know it.
As Benjamin Franklin (one of the Founding Fathers of the United Stated) once stated, "They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."