By all accounts, both from
the Left and the Right, the latest ruling from the 4th
U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond VA is the
beginning of the end of all our civil rights.
The court ruled in the case
of one Yaser Hamdi, a U.S. citizen who was captured in the
field in Afghanistan fighting with Taliban forces against
the United States. Mr. Hamdi has since been held as
a prisoner of war, which means he doesn't have a right to
the various legal protections afforded by the Constitution
to citizens arrested by domestic police forces. The
Chicken Littles are up in arms because the Bush
administration claims the right to treat enemy combatants
as ... enemy combatants.
Specifically, the ruling
affirmed the government's authority to detain American
citizens captured in battle against us, or who are
implicated in terror attacks against U.S. citizens or
interests. The ruling very pointedly left the matter
of American citizens arrested in this country unaddressed,
thereby conferring no authority to arrest and detain you
and me in violation of the Constitution. This point
appears not to have penetrated a number of heads before
the panic button was pushed. Perhaps the weirdest
claim has been that the ruling gives the Bush
administration the power to define anyone as an enemy
combatant, raising the specter of blue-haired grandmothers
tossed into prison camps for bad-mouthing the
But really, this is so much
hyperventilation. Far from extending vast
unconstitutional power to the government, the Court did no
more than state the obvious. Better said, the Court
reaffirmed what has always been. What has actually
been happening is not a steady expansion of government
authority over private citizens, but rather a constant
push to extend citizenship rights to enemy prisoners of
It's never been difficult to
know who is an enemy combatant, and it has been so simple
all along that it has never crossed anyone's mind that we
needed a law to affirm it. It's as if we required a
law to define what the color blue is, or what is day and
what constitutes night. You leave your country, go
to another, join their army, pick up a rifle, and march
into battle against us, and you're an enemy combatant.
It should be obvious, but in this day and age, it's not.
For we live in a time when lawyers and judges build
careers on the most outrageous violations of common sense.
The complaints of inhumane treatment of the prisoners in
Guantanamo Bay are a case in point. The case of Mr.
Hamdi is another.
What's appalling about the
ruling is not what powers it vouchsafed to the government;
it's that any ruling was necessary at all. For
decades our legal system has expanded the concept of
rights to the point where they no longer have any meaning
other than what some activist judge chooses. In a
country where (and I'm not making this up) a judge can
rule that each one of a schizophrenic suspect's multiple
personalities has individual Miranda rights, it has
actually become necessary to codify that the government
has authority to do what the Constitution requires of it.
In the eternal
push-and-shove of government power vs. citizens' rights,
it's always appropriate to be wary of the natural tendency
of government to overreach. But every action
produces an equal and opposite reaction. If the Bush
administration has given the criminals' rights people a
mighty shove, it was only pushing back. John
Ashcroft is only necessary because of left-liberal groups
like the ones who filed Amicus briefs on behalf of Mr.
Hamdi. The roster of their names occupies the first
seven full pages of the opinion, and reads like the guest
list at a DNC fundraiser.
If these people don't want
the government to treat citizens as prisoners of war, they
might start by dropping their demands that prisoners of
war be treated as citizens.