Chris Dodd Gives Hope To Constitution Advocates

I’m listening to the audio of Chris Dodd’s speech on the Senate floor last night about why immunity for telecoms is such a terrible idea. This is a take-no-prisoners speech. One of the best things Dodd does is tie together all the other constitutional crimes committed by the Bush administration, and he makes it clear they are not separate issues and should not be treated as if they were:

Mr. President, I’ve said that warrantless wiretapping is but the latest link in a long chain of abuses when it comes to the rule of law.

This is about the Justice Department turning our nation’s highest law enforcement offices into patronage plums, and turning the impartial work of indictments and trials into the pernicious machinations of politics.

Contempt for the rule of law.

This is about Alberto Gonzales, the nation’s now-departed Attorney General, coming before Congress to give us testimony that was at best, wrong—and at worst, outright perjury.

Contempt for the rule of law – by the nation’s foremost enforcer of the law.

This is about Congress handing the president the power to designate any individual he wants as an “unlawful enemy combatant,” hold him indefinitely, and take away his right to habeas corpus—the 700-year-old right to challenge your detention.

If you think that the Military Commissions Act struck at the heart of the Constitution, you’d be understating things—it did a pretty good job on the Magna Carta while it was at it.

And if you think that this only threatens a few of us, you should understand that the writ of habeas corpus belongs to all of us—it allows anyone to challenge their detention.

Thankfully, the Supreme Court recently rebuked the President’s lawlessness and ruled that detainees do indeed have the right to challenge their detention.

He condemns the torture regime at even greater length. He describes the ordeals suffered by Maher Arar, by Khaled al-Masri, by nameless detainees at Guantanamo. Here is one very small portion:

Mr. President, the Military Commissions Act also gave President Bush the power some say he wanted most of all: the power to get information out of suspected terrorists—by virtually any means.

The power to use evidence gained from torture.

I don’t think you can hold the rule of law in any greater contempt than sanctioning torture, Mr. President.

Because of decisions made at the highest levels of our government, America is making itself known to the world for torture, with stories like this one:

A prisoner at Guantanamo—to take one example out of hundreds— was deprived of sleep over fifty five days, a month and three weeks. Some nights, he was doused with water or blasted with air conditioning. And after week after week of this delirious, shivering wakefulness, on the verge of death from hypothermia, doctors strapped him to a chair—doctors, healers who took the Hippocratic Oath to “do no harm”—pumped him full of three bags of medical saline, brought him back from death—and sent him back to his interrogators.

To the generation coming of age around the world in this decade, that is America. Not Normandy, not the Marshall Plan, not Nuremberg.  But Guantanamo.

Think about it.

Then he closes the circle:

If you’d like to define torture out of existence, be my guest.

If you’d rather use a Washington euphemism—“tough questioning,” “enhanced interrogation”—feel free. Feel free to talk about “fraternity hazing,” like Rush Limbaugh did, or to use a favorite term of Vice President Cheney’s,  “a dunk in the water.” You can call it whatever you’d like.

But when you’re through, the facts will still be waiting for you. Controlled death. Outsourced torture. Secret prisons. Month-long sleep deprivations. The president’s personal power to hold whomever he likes for as long as he’d like.  It is as if we woke up in the middle of some Kafka-esque nightmare.

Have I gone wildly off-topic, Mr. President? Have I brought up a dozen unrelated issues?

I wish I had, Mr. President.  I wish that none of these stories were true.

But, we are deceiving ourselves when we talk about the U.S. attorneys issue, the habeas issue, the torture issue, the rendition issue, or the secrecy issue as if each were an isolated case! As if each one were an accident! When we speak of them as isolated, we are keeping our politics cripplingly small; and as long as we keep this small, the rule of men is winning.

There is only one issue here. Only one: the law issue.

Does the president serve the law, or does the law serve the president? Each insult to our Constitution comes from the same source; each springs from the same mindset; and if we attack this contempt for the law at any point, we will wound it at all points.

Read and/or listen to the whole thing.

Blogger reax to come.

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