Tuesday, January 12, 2010

The Declaration Of Independence And The War on Terror

We were supposed to evacuate the Guantanamo Prison this month. We won’t. The new president, Barack Obama, made an issue of this and vowed to shut it down by January 23, giving ammunition to hawkish opponents. On December 15, Obama signed an order that the remaining prisoners will be transferred to the Thomson Correctional Center in Illinois. Some Yemeni prisoners have sued to remain in Gitmo, since the Illinois prison is more, well, prison-like. Over 400 of a total of 775 prisoners have been released without trial, 215 remain, and the government expects to prosecute 60-80.

Without rehashing the dubious case for some of the individuals’ imprisonment, commenting on conditions and treatment (I don’t know), or on the possibility of exacerbating the terrorist threat against the United States by depriving innocent bystanders of liberty, let me offer my take on this affair, and on comments like that of retired Lt. Gen. Thomas McInerney, who told Fox News that 18-28 year old Muslim males should be routinely strip searched at airports.

The United States Constitution, in its Amendments, particularly the first ten, the Bill of Rights, guarantees citizens

* Freedom of religion speech and assembly,

* The right to bear arms,

* The right not to be obliged to house soldiers,
* Privacy of houses persons papers and effects without a warrant sworn that there is probably cause for believing we have committed crimes or are concealing evidence of a crime,

* Freedom from arbitrary arrest and trial, to not be tried twice for the same crime, from testifying against ourselves, and from losing property for public use without just compensation,

* Rights to know what we accused of if arrested, face our accusers, subpoena witnesses, have counsel, and have a speedy and local trial, the right to a jury trial for civil suits,

* Freedom from excessive bail and excessive fines, and cruel and inhuman punishment,

* Rights other than those enumerated,

* Powers not delegated to the federal government.

Later Amendments made slaves citizens and enfranchised women.

The Preamble to the Constitution states that it is written to “...secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.” In other words, the above rights are sort of a premium for citizenship, but another of our foundation documents, which does not have the force of law, gives a clue to the soul of the nation that the founders envisioned.

The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776, beginning the period when the United States “assume(d) its place among the powers of the world.” There had been armed skirmishes between American colonists and British armed forces, and Samuel Adams, brother to future president John, asked, “Is not America already independent? Then why not declare it?” Richard Henry Lee, an uncle or cousin of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, said “These United Colonies are, and of right, ought to be free and independent states.” A committee that included future presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson wrote the Declaration.

There is a lot of what you might call “boilerplate” in the Declaration, documenting injustices on the part of English King George III, but the meat says something about the rights of Man, and their universality:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness.

“That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation of such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”

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