America is not a battlefield
by R. Lee Wrights
“Single acts of tyranny may be ascribed to the accidental opinion of a day. But a series of oppressions, begun at a distinguished period, and pursued unalterably through every change of ministers, too plainly proves a deliberate systematic plan of reducing us to slavery.”
- Thomas Jefferson
The United States is now a battlefield, not because of any invading army, foreign enemy, or civil insurrection, but by an act of Congress. In a shameful, disgraceful bipartisan vote on the 220th anniversary of the ratification of the Bill of Rights, Congress passed a bill that essentially eviscerates the rights guaranteed in that hallowed document and guts the rule of law in our nation. Why should we be surprised? James Madison warned, “No nation could preserve its freedom in the midst of continual warfare.”
Several provisions of the National Defense Authorization Act have nothing at all to do with defending our nation; on the contrary they hand yet another victory to the terrorists we’re supposed to be fighting. Osama bin Laden is dead, as is most of al-Qaeda’s leadership. President Obama is claiming success in defeating the Taliban and troops are leaving Iraq. And still the war hawks continue to rattle their sabers, and seek new battlegrounds and new enemies.
The bill declares the entire world — even the United States — a battlefield and turns American citizens into mere subjects who can be jailed indefinitely, or killed simply on the order of the president. It allows the president to use the U.S. Armed Forces to detain anyone indefinitely, even American citizens on American soil, who he and he alone determines may be a terrorist. No evidence, no trial, no lawyers. Just shoot them or send them to the Bastille!
The bill also renews and expands the 2001 Authorization to Use Military Force, a disgraceful law in which Congress abdicated its Constitutional duty to declare war. Now Congress would let the president wage war not only on al-Qaeda and the Taliban but also on “associated forces,” or any group, nation or person which he — and he alone — decides has given “substantial support” to such groups. These terms are so broad and so vague that it grants the president virtually unlimited, unrestrained, and unchecked power to use military force against anyone, anywhere.
This bill turns the fundamental principle of our nation that civilian authority is always superior to the military on its head. This concept was so important to our founders that it was enshrined in all three of our foundational documents: the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights. Yet Congress now has mandated that the U.S. Attorney General consult with military officials before charging a suspected terrorist in court.
Some pundits note that this legislation merely codifies power that the president has already exercised. This is small comfort to those of us who cherish limited, Constitutional government. It’s no comfort all in view of the fact that President Obama has already assumed the authority to attack nations and kill people at will and shows no signs of restraint. On the contrary, in a White House statement President Obama said he wouldn’t veto the legislation because it “does not challenge or constrain the president’s ability to collect intelligence, incapacitate dangerous terrorists, and protect the American people.”
What is most outrageous, and dangerous to our liberty and freedom, is that this act had broad bipartisan support. Whenever a bill has “broad bipartisan support” you can be certain of one thing: it expands government power at the cost of your rights. It is shameful, but not surprising, that a Congress incapable of fulfilling is basic duties and responsibilities like declaring war and passing a federal budget on time, has no problem quickly reaching near unanimous agreement on new ways to trash the Constitution and Bill of Rights.
“Permit me to state the obvious: The government shouldn’t be allowed to imprison people indefinitely without charge or trial,” writes Sheldon Richman, editor of The Freeman. “It shouldn’t be necessary to say this nearly 800 years after the Magna Carta was signed and over 200 years after the Fifth Amendment was ratified.” It should be obvious, but it isn’t, not to our president and most of our Congress. What is obvious is their lust for power. To them, all the world’s a battlefield, even America, and all men and women mere subjects, to be incarcerated or killed at will, even American citizens, in the name of national security.
Perhaps we should remind our so-called elected leaders of how our nation began. In the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson listed the ways King George III had violated the rights of Americans under English law. Among the charges were that the king had made “the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power,” subjected Americans to “a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws,” deprived them “of the benefits of Trial by Jury,” and transported them “beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences.”
The American Revolution wasn’t about replacing a hereditary tyrant with an elective despotism. It is time to remind our ruling elites of that point. It is time to remind them that the founding principle of our nation holds that when those who profess to govern us perpetrate a “long train of abuses” designed to “reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.” It is not just our right – but our duty – to send a loud, clear and unequivocal message to the president and Congress that it is time to stop the war on liberty and freedom, today and in the 2012 election.
R. Lee Wrights is a writer and political activist living in Texas. He is currently seeking the Libertarian Party presidential nomination. He is the co-founder and editor of the free speech online magazine Liberty For All. Contact Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org.