Bush War On Terror vs. Anglo-American Freedoms

The Bush
administration believes that

habeas corpus
a luxury that the US cannot
afford in its war against terror.

Habeas corpus
is the legal principle that is the foundation of

freedom. It prevents the government
from picking up a person and holding him indefinitely
without charge.

Joseph Stalin

Adolf Hitler
were not constrained by habeas
. They were able to declare millions of people
“enemies” and send them off to death camps.

People were
declared enemies because of their class and race, or
simply because someone with the power to put their name
on a list did not like them or coveted their wife or

In the Soviet
Union many people disappeared in “street sweeps”
conducted by secret police under pressure to

show results
by arresting more “enemies.”

The Bush
administration`s attempt to legally suspend habeas
in The Patriot Act was rebuffed by House
Judiciary Committee chairman James Sensenbrenner. Now
the Department of Justice (sic)
and the Department of Defense are trying to assert the
power to suspend habeas corpus by bureaucratic

The Bush
administration claims the power to declare suspected
terrorists “enemy combatants” and to hold them
indefinitely without bringing charges, presenting
evidence or permitting suspects contact with attorneys
or any outside persons. The US Department of Justice
(sic) recently told the US Supreme Court that

“the Court owes the executive branch great deference in
matters of national security and military affairs.”

In other words:
“Buzz off and leave terrorism to us.”

Harvey Silverglate
, a noted

civil libertarian,
recently explained in the
Boston Phoenix
(Crossing the threshold

March 6
) that suspension of habeas corpus
leaves a suspect without hope and permits prosecutors to
coerce guilty pleas regardless of guilt.

points out that zeal in pursuing results in the war on
terror is creating a

“Darkness at Noon” legal
in the US. Suspects who can be
coerced into making guilty pleas are given a public show
trial. Recalcitrants are declared to be “enemy
and shipped off to Guantanamo or held
offshore on ships outside the reach of the legal system.
Even U.S. citizens are being dealt with in this way.

Show trials have
great propaganda value for the government`s “war on
while the public never learns the fate of
those dealt with administratively in secret.

The Bush
administration`s claim to the right to conduct its war
on terror outside the framework of US law is before the
Supreme Court. If the Court fails to preserve habeas
, the ancient right dating to the

Magna Carta in 1215
will be vitiated.

In Silverglate`s
will be clothed in the garments of legitimacy.”

There is more
than one legal road to tyranny, and prosecutors and

are making sure all roads to tyranny are
open. On March 22 the Supreme Court

argued a case
that will determine whether Americans
still have the right to remain silent. The Supreme Court
requires police to read your Miranda rights to you, but
if you choose to remain silent,

Nevada prosecutors
will indict you for
“obstructing an officer.”

Nevada rancher

Dudley Hiibel
was approached by a policeman
demanding his identification papers. Hiibel asked why.
Not receiving much of an explanation, he said that he

didn`t want to talk
. This is the case now before the
Court. Watch for the ruling in May or June.

Coercion has
replaced due process and legal rights. The public`s fear
of crime and terrorism is permitting police and
prosecutors to escape their leashes. Their jobs are
budget-driven and results-oriented. The more power they
grab, the easier their jobs. The more high profile cases
they prosecute, the greater the naive public`s
confidence in “law and order.” Silverglate

points out
that in the recent Detroit terrorist
case, the government withheld exculpatory evidence that
indicated that the testimony against the defendants was

will willingly trade the public results
in the terror war for Americans` traditional legal
rights. If Americans make this Faustian bargain, they
will discover that their rights are forfeit as well as
those of terrorist suspects.

American prisons
are full of wrongfully convicted people. Prosecutors
fight DNA testing of prisoners who claim innocence and
resist even the release of people whose innocence has
been established.

One reason is
their fear of restitution. If innocent people are
released, their claims would put a different light on
“law and order”
prosecutors, whose policy of
conviction at all costs would be perceived as expensive
to taxpayers.

British Home
Secretary David Blunkett has hit on a way around the
restitution dilemma. He has instituted a policy of
charging Britain`s wrongfully convicted room and board
for the time they spent freeloading in prison.

The Sunday
(March 14)

four cases of wrongfully convicted
people—including some who were

intentionally framed
by the police—who were charged
enormous sums for the years that they were wrongfully
imprisoned. One had his compensation seized and was
charged interest on the money paid to him at 23%!

The British are
worried that their entry into the

European Union
will cost them the fabled legal
protections that

William Blackstone
called the glory of England. But
the British, like the Americans, have already lost those

The pendulum has
swung away from the rule of law. Arbitrary government
power has made a comeback.


Craig Roberts was Associate Editor of the WSJ editorial
page, 1978-80, and columnist for “Political Economy.”
During 1981-82 he was Assistant Secretary of the
Treasury for Economic Policy. He is the author of

Supply-Side Revolution: An Insider`s Account of
Policymaking in Washington