Friday, September 15, 2006

Roll over, Jefferson and Hamilton...and Adams...

I think this is the country you founded, but I'm not really sure anymore...

Well, Tom, I'm afraid that few Americans today understand what you and your fellow constitution framers were trying to do when you placed the military under the command of a civilian president and gave Congress sole power to wage war. As you said more than a couple of centuries ago:


“We have already given in example one effectual check to the Dog of war by transferring the power of letting him loose from the Executive to the Legislative body, from those who are to spend to those who are to pay.”

And Alex, in spite of all those friendly arguments with Tom over the concept of a strong central government, still you did everything you could to keep some blood-thirsty general from instigating a military coup:

Under Article II of the Constitution, Presidents have the title commander in chief. Unlike the interpretations offered by some advocates of executive power, this title never gave the President the authority to take the country to war. Instead, it was limited to two purposes. One was to promote unity of command. The framers wanted the accountability that comes with a single person in charge of military operations. In Federalist No. 74, Hamilton explained that “the direction of war most peculiarly demands those qualities which distinguish the exercise of power by a single hand.” The second purpose was to assure civilian supremacy. In time of war, control was not to be transferred to generals and admirals. Whatever soldier leads U.S. armies to victory against an enemy, “he is subject to the orders of the civil magistrate, and he and his army are always ‘subordinate to the civil power.’”
(From an excellent article by Louis Fisher, "Lost Constitutional Moorings: Recovering the War Power" in the Indiana Law Journal.)
Tom and Alex, I really don't know how to break this to you gently, but things are pretty topsy-turvy these days in the United States of America. It's the generals who are upholding the rule of law, and the President who is trying to pull off a bloody coup. That's right,
the civilian Chief Executive made a special visit to Capitol Hill yesterday to lobby for torture, while the military men keep arguing against it.

So much for your ideal of "civilian supremacy."

I mean
, who would be suprised if an Atilla-the-Hun type was anxious to torture war prisoners? Our generals, however, not to mention a former prisoner of war who was himself tortured at the Hanoi Hilton, are dead set against any attempt to "clarify" Article 3 of the Geneva Conventions:

What I do mourn is what we lose when by official policy or official neglect we allow, confuse or encourage our soldiers to forget that best sense of ourselves, that which is our greatest strength-that we are different and better than our enemies, that we fight for an idea, not a tribe, not a land, not a king, not a twisted interpretation of an ancient religion, but for an idea that all men are created equal and endowed by their Creator with inalienable rights.
Sen. John McCain, "Torture's Terrible Toll."

Gen. John W. Vessey Jr., a former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, wrote:

I continue to read and hear that we are facing a 'different enemy' in the war on terror. No matter how true that may be, inhumanity and cruelty are not new to warfare nor to enemies we have faced in the past. . . . Through those years, we held to our own values. We should continue to do so.

Even Gen. Colin Powell, apparently just catching up with international opinion, writes that "the world is beginning to doubt the moral basis of our fight against terrorism."

And listen, guys, whatever you do, please, please, please don't tell John Adams --whom I'm sure you bump into quite often up there in that great law library in the sky-- that the President of the United States is also demanding the right to execute suspected terrorists "on the basis of evidence that the defendants cannot see and that may have been extracted during those abusive interrogation sessions."

John would be positively despondent after his stellar defense of the British captain and his men, accused of killing civilians during what (our) history terms the Boston Massacre in
1770. History tells us that "initial reaction to Adams' role in the case was hostile. His law practice dropped by over half," but he firmy believed that even redcoats deserved a defense -- and he got six of the eight men acquitted!

What was it John said when he recalled in his old age how he had defended the enemy in a court of law ?

It was ... one of the most gallant, generous, manly and disinterested Actions of my whole Life, and one of the best Pieces of Service I ever rendered my Country. Judgment of Death against those Soldiers would have been as foul a Stain upon this Country as the Executions of the Quakers or Witches, anciently. As the Evidence was, the Verdict of the Jury was exactly right.

If it were today, the Limey-fascists would be sent waterboarding and then hung out to dry.

Well, Alex and Tom, I know you're as disappointed as I am about all this....torture, suspension of habeas corpus, and defendants deprived of their right to know the accusations against them. Just doesn't seem like the U.S.A. that you guys established, does it?

But when I stand silently with some of my fellow Americans in front of the court house tomorrow, I know you'll be standing right there with us.

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