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October 18, 2006

Anti-US but Pro-American


Some thoughts on the
Military Commissions Act of 2006

by Christopher Ketcham

Well, that tears it. I read the Military Commissions Act of 2006 on my sh*tty little dial-up connection here in the cabin, and immediately went to the pawn shop in Moab and bought another rifle. Five of them now in the stash, plus a couple pistols. Ready enough to arm seven people altogether. Have you read the Military Commissions Act of 2006? I mean, read it through to its poisonous black heart, its implication for our basic freedoms, its tolling that the system of checks enshrined in the Constitution and entrusted to the three balanced branches is gone? That's extreme language, I know, but it approaches the truth.

The Military Commissions Act was offered by legislators in collusion with the Bush White House to legalize CIA and other government tactics of torture against so-called "unlawful enemy combatants." For this reason, the Military Commissions Act is now referred to by its critics as the Torture Act. In violation of the Geneva Convention and our own Anti-Torture Statute passed by Congress in 1994 legislation that makes torture a felony punishable by 20 years in prison the Torture Act has now "legalized" a mind-shattering array of techniques for gleaning information from the "enemy." Conveniently, it also pardons ex post facto "our brave men and women" (as George W. Bush describes them) who since the dawn of the "war on terror" have been committing crimes against humanity. The acts of torture now made legal and wholesome include the burning of flesh, the breaking of bones, the placing of needles under fingernails, the tearing of limbs, the disfiguring of faces, and the infliction of general bodily injury that may or may not entail the fine print of the law isn't clear, making it all the more nefarious, as fine print always is the loss of a finger or a toe or a testicle.

This is horrific enough. Upon further investigation of the document, however, one discovers that the enemy is not just the faceless Islamic horde but the American people unsurprising from a regime, abetted by its legislative branch, that already illegally wiretaps its citizens. According to the Torture Act, any American now can be declared an "unlawful combatant" to be arrested, held indefinitely without hearing or charge or trial, tortured without cease or until such time as hell freezes over. There is no guideline for how the designation of "combatant" is to be made; it simply falls from on high at the whim of the president's office. This is the secret meaning of the document. The right of habeas corpus, a right as old as the germ of democracy? Gone. Never happened. Confronting your accuser? Sorry. Hearing the charges against you? Not applicable. Right to counsel for a public trial? Forget it. The protections against cruel and unusual punishment? Your hands and feet are tied, pal. Our Congress passed this law, violating its own duty to protect the Constitution. It is now federal law that the Bill of Rights no longer applies.

Our answer as citizens should be clear. You can be paranoid and go out and buy more guns. In the near term, this is probably a bad idea, though it certainly makes freaks like me sleep better at night, knowing there is a vast armed populace ready to defend against its own government. But are Americans really willing to do so? Time will tell. Violent insurrection against the United States by New Yorkers and Ohioans and Utahns together may be necessary at some future point… when the televisions flicker out and the shelves at the Wal-Mart run short. Until then, there are other possibilities. Chief among them, in this vaunted election year, is not voting Democrat. "The problem is that the Democrats are part of the problem," observes political scientist Paul Craig Roberts here at Antiwar.com. "Democrats, no less than Republicans, have permitted the Bush regime to violate the separation of powers and the rule of law. A branch of government that no longer defends its power is a branch of government that no longer believes in its power. Just as the Reichstag faded away for Hitler, the U.S. Congress has faded away for the Bush administration."

Consider the significance of the sheer number of representatives and senators who voted in favor of the Torture Act. In the House, 218 Republicans, 32 Democrats. In the Senate, a vote of 65 to 34, the yeas including Joe Lieberman, Chuck Hagel, Charles Grassley, and torture victim John McCain.

The fact is that every congressperson who voted for the Torture Act must take immediate action to repeal the law and then resign forever from public service. The ancient Greeks suggest further remedies: banishment beyond the walls of the polis, to forever wander among the barbarians. Our legislators in their exile can be assured that countries such as Syria, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, and North Korea will welcome them, always looking for spokesmen to defend brutality in the name of security. Failing this, we have the hope of the U.S. Supreme Court, which has shown its colors in the Hamdan decision striking down the Bush administration's military tribunals. If both our federal gatekeepers fail us, state legislators should begin the process of nullification of the Torture Act, regarding it as a violation of the covenant between the separate states and the federal center and refusing to enforce it or abide it. How would this play out on the ground? Let's say the federal government comes to your state looking for those who have been deemed, in a process as random as lightning touching down, "unlawful enemy combatants" – perhaps someone like yourself who reads too much. The state government to whom you look for protection (we hope) rebukes the federal government's effort and refuses to hand you over. Thus is a constitutional crisis provoked (as if the Constitution isn't already in crisis).

And from there things spin out of control. We might actually witness the use of federal troops to enter into state territory to apprehend the "enemies" among us. Would state militia in the form of the National Guard be called forth to defend against the encroachment? Would militiamen come forth from the homes of Americans? Would there be balls enough among the citizens collectively for us to even reach this far in the tragedy? Let's hope so, and hope it never comes to pass; let's hope the democracy will survive the long beating of the last seven years to emerge from its shocked shell and re-engage.

But given Murphy's Law, we should be prepared otherwise. For my part, understanding that the federal government, regardless of the party in power, actively connives against my interests as a free man, that my elected leaders in Congress no longer believe in the American experiment (while spending my tax dollars in furtherance of its failure, galling thought), I am increasingly inclined to renounce the United States. I renounce it in favor of Brooklyn, New York, and Moab, Utah, in favor of the local over the global, of the polis over the imperium. Being anti-United States, I am most certainly pro-American. This, under the constantly distending definitions provided by our Congress, might just make me an "enemy" worthy of having my skin pocked black and my arms broken.

Hence the new Lee-Enfield bolt action, bought at Yama & Sons' pawnshop in Moab, whose proprietors provided 12 free rounds of .303 ammunition, which among Army-surp suppliers costs about 0.2 cents a round, i.e., goddamn cheap, ideal for readying an insurrection. A rifle invented in 1895, muzzle velocity 2,440 feet per second, maximum range 2,000 yards, deadly reliable, morbidly accurate, perfected throughout the first half of the 20th century for maintaining the falling British Empire; now for possible use to end the American one.

 

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Christopher Ketcham, a freelance reporter based in Moab, Utah, writes for Harper's, Mother Jones, GQ, Salon and many other venues. Visit his Web site.

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