Has Martial Law Been Declared?
by Jacob Hornberger
June 20, 2002

President Bush has ordered the incarceration of accused terrorist Jose Padilla, possibly for the rest of his life, without giving him the benefit of a trial. Padilla is an American citizen who was arrested here in the United States. According to federal officials, he will remain in a U.S. military jail until the government's "war on terrorism" has been "won," possibly several decades from now.

President Bush calls Padilla an "enemy combatant" in the "war on terrorism" rather than a person accused of conspiring to commit a crime against the United States. But the "war on terrorism" is simply a euphemism, not a war against a nation-state, such as existed in World Wars I and II. Or do President Bush and the Army now claim the authority to arrest American citizens accused of being "enemy combatants" in the "war on drugs" and sock them away in a military brig for the rest of their lives without the benefit of a trial? How about "enemy combatants" in the government's more general "war on crime"?

The 4th, 5th, and 6th Amendments to the U.S. Constitution guarantee that the federal government will not and cannot deprive any person accused of a crime of due process of law, a jury trial, right to counsel, right to be confronted by witnesses against him, the presumption of innocence, and no punishment unless convicted by credible evidence beyond a reasonable doubt. These rights stretch all the way back to Magna Carta – the Great Charter by which the barons of England forced King John to stop arbitrarily seizing the people and their property in violation of "the law of the land." It is those guarantees that have always distinguished our nation from all other nations, including Cuba, China, and North Korea (and the former Soviet Union), where people are incarcerated indefinitely without trial on the arbitrary and capricious orders of the governing authorities.

The reason our Founding Fathers insisted on the express inclusion of these guarantees into the Bill of Rights was to protect us – the people – from well-meaning but over-zealous federal officials who would take away our rights and liberties in the midst of a crisis.

The Constitution is the supreme law of our land. It is the legal barrier that stands between tyranny and freedom. The president should be made to honor and obey the Constitution. Padilla should be turned over to civilian authorities and accorded all the guarantees and protections he is entitled to under the Constitution.

Jacob G. Hornberger is founder and president of The Future of Freedom Foundation.

Back to Antiwar.com Home Page | Contact Us