When I understood the influences of Polybius' (second century BC..) treatise on the checks and balances of the constitution of the Roman Republic, and of Charles de Secondat, Baron de Montesquieu, who emphasized the need to have balanced forces pushing against each other to prevent tyranny, my young mind imagined it to be the best system of government ever devised.
The uncodified constitutional traditions of the UK could never, it seemed to me, equal the addition of the Bill of Rights to the US Constitution either in clarity or provisions for it's people. Nor did the risk of abuse by the legal profession compare, as there is only one class of people in the UK who have any chance of comprehending the full application of the law and the 100's of years precedents that developed around it.
Although there is an Act Declaring the Rights and Liberties of the Subject and Settling the Succession of the Crown (also known by its short title, the Bill of Rights (1689) in England, it simply confirms our status as subjects rather than citizens - and personally, like the early Americans I have never considered myself to be subject to very much at all.
Perhaps the greatest right that UK subjects were given since the Magna Carta (which confirmed the right to due process..) was the right to 'freedom from cruel and unusual punishments', and this freedom was also included in the US Bill of rights, and later of course "cruel, inhuman or degrading punishments" were banned under Article 5 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights.
It seems to me that the three most important words in the constitution are the 'We the People' in the preamble, as they denote that the constitution came not from a King, but from the people themselves - and so I imagined all future laws would constrain offices and officials in the USA to the will of the people. I and others have since wised up, because it is clear that certain offices are indeed above the law.
It is clear that it (..the Constitution) was always an imperfect instrument when applied to indigenous people in America. But besides the long history of abuse of the Indian tribes, the Chinese and others were also subjected to widespread persecution and violence by white Americans.
In spite of their indispensable role in the development of the west for example, the Chinese were discriminated against in terms of pay and working conditions. White American workers viewed them as racial inferiors, even robbing and lynching them - thereby stimulating the passage of a variety of discriminatory laws. Finally, when their 'job was done' Chinese workers were prevented from immigrating to America at all by the blatantly racist Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. It surprised me to learn that this wasn't repealed until 1943 when it became an embarrassment during the war..
Everyone on both sides of the Atlantic is by now familiar with the obvious fact that slavery was promoted under both Bill's of Rights, and the only possible explanation seems to be that non-whites (in this case blacks) were considered somehow less than human - much in the same way as the Indians, Chinese and Mexicans (who had their lands stolen from them in the west). The Japanese of course had their property confiscated after Pearl Harbour and were interned during the war - while the white enemy (the Germans and Italians) were not treated any differently than they had been previously..
In light of these facts then was the US Constitution worth the paper it's written on? Perhaps all of these abuses of basic human rights can be excused as 'historical aberrations', or even attributed to the growing pains of a 'great nation'? One redeeming fact is that Abraham Lincoln went back to the Constitution and fought the Civil War over slavery, eventually banning it forever - but not it seemed the hatred and discrimination in men's hearts.
Well perhaps that should have led to equality for all Americans, we know it did not, but we might assume that significant progress had been made and so the bad old days would never return. Until that is you consider Guantanamo Bay, and the abuse or killing of inmates in US military prisons in Afghanistan and Iraq. The Detainee Abuse and Accountability Project (DAA), has documented countless hundreds of prisoners being beaten, raped, forced to abuse themselves, made to maintain "stress positions," and subjected to prolonged sleep deprivation and mock executions.
The New York Times reports that prisoners held by the US military at Bagram airbase in Afghanistan were made to stand for up to 13 days with their hands chained to the ceiling, naked, hooded and unable to sleep. The Washington Post alleges that prisoners at the same airbase were "commonly blindfolded and thrown into walls, bound in painful positions, subjected to loud noises and deprived of sleep" while kept, like the arrivals at Guantanamo Bay, "in black hoods or spray-painted goggles." It is a shame on the whole country that no officer has yet been held to account for torture practised by his subordinates, and it certainly appears that US torturers enjoy impunity - until they are stupid enough to take pictures of each other and pass them on to journalists that is.
Unlike ancient Rome, US citizens themselves are not immune to this treatment as pointed out by George Monbiot of The Guardian. In early December, defense lawyers acting for Jose Padilla, a US citizen detained as an "enemy combatant," released a video showing him being taken to the prison dentist. A group of masked guards in riot gear shackled and blindfolded him and then shut off his hearing with headphones, before marching him down the prison corridor.
His warders describe him as so docile and inactive that he could be mistaken for "a piece of furniture." He had been kept in a blacked-out cell, unable to see or hear anything beyond it and more significantly, he had no human contact, except for being bounced off the walls from time to time by his interrogators. As a result, he appears to have lost his mind, while the purpose of these measures appears to be simply sustaining the regime under which Padilla had lived for over three years in total sensory deprivation.
Hypocrisy abounds, during his invasion of Iraq, George Bush warned Iraqis about their treatment of American prisoners of war in 2003: "I expect them to be treated like POWs, I expect them to be treated humanely, just like we're treating the prisoners that we have captured humanely. If not, the people who mistreat the prisoners will be treated as war criminals."
That this man is so obviously an idiot, and a hypocritical one at that is clear, he can only be described as a blight on his nation:
"You know, one of the hardest parts of my job is to connect Iraq to the war on terror."-Interview with CBS News, Washington D.C., Sept. 6, 2006
"I didn't join the International Criminal Court because I don't want to put our troops in the hands of prosecutors from other nations. Look, if somebody has done some wrong in our military, we'll take care of it. We got plenty of capability of dealing with justice."-Niceville, Fla., Aug. 10, 2004
It's quite clear that permission for the use of torture came from the absolute highest levels of the Bush government. What is more astonishing to those outside the country is the active participation of religious Christians in top-secret policy making which led to this torture and what can only be described as crimes against humanity. Some of the names are familiar, such as Bush and Ashcroft, but others are less well known, such as Walker and Bybee. Whatever has happened to the separation between church and state in America? It appears to the rest of the world as though the USA now has its own ayatollah..
If this was happening in the UK, in the name of 'defense' and 'exporting democracy', we would certainly see it for the lie that it is - and probably even send our sons to protect the nation against the economic and increasingly militarily fascist state that America has become today. Are we going to continue to overlook the systematic violation of our laws and the laws of the world community itself? If so then shame on us..
But the fact that this man can rule the most powerful nation on earth with nary a sanction, is also a blight on his people, - and they will eventually be ashamed to face their children if they let this continue. They should also realise that the USA will also be more actively opposed by the world community if they allow this 'war' to open a third front in Iran.
If we are so docile as to watch the systematic violation of all that's important about democracy, while suffering the exportation of it's bastardization to third world countries - what chance then is there of expecting the youth in the middle east to passively accept that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, is being so blatantly violated? Should they not then be expected to react just as violently to the fools that follow Bush, as we all did to an earlier Hitler and his sheepish people not so very long ago?
As President Bush defies Congress, and before the situation gets any worse, lets find someone to run the country that will stop using fear to gain more executive power. Someone who will in fact understand and revere the Constitution of the United States...