The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing -- Edmund Burke

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Citizen or Enemy?

Michael R. Bowen, MD

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Michael R. Bowen, MD

mbowen@americasvoices.org       
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"Common sense is the knack of seeing things as they are, and doing things as they ought to be done."
-- Josh Billings, 19th century American humorist

January 14, 2003


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 administration.

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 war.

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.

 

Copyright Copyright 2020 by Michael R. Bowen, MD & America's Voices, Inc.  All rights reserved.
Dr. Michael Bowen, a former Naval officer, has a private medical practice in Wolfeboro, New Hampshire.  He writes the weekly column
"The Basics" and the occasional guest column "Mixed Reviews" for America's Voices, a conservative political opinion and educational web site.  His columns also appear in other popular Internet sites, including Opinionet.com and Enterstageright.com.  E-mail Dr. Bowen at mbowen@americasvoices.org.

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