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Monday, October 10, 2005

Land of the no-longer free

Paul Craig Roberts:
Americans may be unaware of what it means to be stripped of the protection of habeas corpus, or they may think police authorities would never make a mistake or ever use their unbridled power against the innocent. Americans might think that the police state will only use its powers against terrorists or "enemy combatants".

But "terrorist" is an elastic and legally undefined category. When the President of the United States declares: "You are with us or against us," the police may perceive a terrorist in a dissenter from the government's policies. Political opponents may be regarded as "against us" and thereby fall in the suspect category. Or a police officer may simply have his eye on another man's attractive wife or wish to settle some old score. An enemy combatant might simply be an American who happens to be in a foreign country when the US invades. In times before our own when people were properly educated, they understood the injustices that caused the English Parliament to pass the Habeas Corpus Act of 1679 prohibiting the arbitrary powers that are now being claimed for the executive branch in the US.
In the Anglo-American legal tradition, law is a shield of the accused. This is necessary in order to protect the innocent. The accused is innocent until he is proven guilty in an open court. There are no secret tribunals, no torture, and no show trials.

Outside the Anglo-American legal tradition, law is a weapon of the state. It may be used with careful restraint, as in Europe today, or it may be used to destroy opponents or rivals as in the Soviet Union and Nazi Germany.

When the protective features of the law are removed, law becomes a weapon. Habeas corpus, due process, the attorney-client privilege, no crime without intent, and prohibitions against torture and ex post facto laws are the protective features that shield the accused. These protective features are being removed by zealotry in the "war against terrorism."