George W. (“I demand an up-or-down-vote”) Bush believes in the majority rule only when it favors his own beliefs. When it doesn’t, he believes in something else.
Something else happened this week when hard-core Republican functionaries twice blocked the Senate from protecting constitutional rights and the welfare of American soldiers.
In the first action, the Senate voted 56–43 to end a Republican filibuster against a proposal to allow terrorism suspects to challenge in court their detention and treatment. Sixty votes, however, are needed to end a filibuster. The bipartisan proposal was pushed by Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), chair of the Judiciary Committee, and Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), the Committee’s senior Republican. All 50 Democrats and six Republicans voted to cut off the filibuster that was the only thing in the way of the Senate asserting that the Constitution matters.
The habeas corpus clause (Article I, Section 9, Clause 2) of the Constitution, guarantees the right of prisoners to challenge why they are incarcerated. It has often been used to guarantee against arbitrary and capricious imprisonment. The 14th amendment, which guarantees due process and equal protection rights, also guarantees rights to non-citizens who are in U.S. territory. The Supreme Court had previously ruled that detainees at the Guantánamo Naval Base do have those rights. However, it gave a loophole to Congress to assert its own interpretation. The Republican-dominated Congress prior to the November 2006 election significantly limited the rights of prisoners. A new Congress, however, thought different. Fifty Democrats and six Republicans voted to affirm the Constitution.
The Bush–Cheney Gang disagrees, and began a blab-fest that spilled from the White House onto talk radio and bloviators everywhere. Critics huffed and puffed and blew hot wind, whining that giving constitutional rights to prisoners would somehow put the U.S. at even greater risk. Sens. Specter, Leahy, and a majority of Senators shredded that argument.
Prior to the vote, Specter, a former Philadelphia district attorney, pointed out that the right of habeas corpus existed since the Magna Carta in 1215, that it is a part of the U.S. Constitution, and that several Supreme Court decisions since 9/11 upholds that right.
“It is from the strength of our freedoms, our Constitution, and the rule of law that we shall prevail,” said Leahy after the vote. Equating the fear-mongering after 9/11 and the enactment of the Military Commissions Act, Leahy noted, “Like the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II, the elimination of habeas rights was an action driven by fear, and it was a stain on America’s reputation in the world.”
Ironically, the filibuster that blocked a Constitutional protection occurred Sept. 19, 2007, exactly 220 years and two days after the Constitution was ratified, ten years after Constitution Day was proposed, three years after George W. Bush enthusiastically signed Public Law 108-447 that mandates nationwide observance and discussion of the Constitution, and exactly two days after Constitution Day 2007.
In the second vote, the Senate, 56–44, failed to end a filibuster against a proposal to require combat troops be given as much time at home as they spent in war before a subsequent redeployment. The Senate amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act was written by Jim Webb (D- Va.), a highly-decorated Marine combat officer during the Vietnam War who later served as secretary of the Navy under Ronald Reagan and by Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.), a twice-wounded infantry squad leader in Vietnam. Thousands of troops are in their second and third deployment to Iraq, each deployment lasting up to 16 months. Gen. David Petraeus says American combat troops could be in Iraq at least 10 years.
When it seemed that Webb was close to lining up 60 votes to override any filibuster, the Department of Defense and White House double-teamed the Senate to try to explain how giving combat soldiers a rest would perpetuate the war and, apparently, allow the terrorists to win. McClatchy Newspapers projects there will be more than 150 filibusters by the end of this Congressional session, at least four times as many as any previous session and at least 25 times more filibusters by Southerners who tried to block civil rights legislation during the mid-1960s. By this filibuster, the Senate vote essentially gave the Bush–Cheney Administration all that it needs to continue an indefinite war, and a commitment of about 130,000 American troops in a country which Osama bin Laden doesn’t even visit.
Shortly after the vote, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) claimed in a press release that the amendment was nothing but a “power grab” by the Democrats and a “back door attempt to stop the war in Iraq.” But, he was more candid than that and revealed both a truth and naiveté. “The Republicans own this war,” Graham told the New York Times, and noted, “If it goes bad, the nation loses and the Republican Party loses disproportionately compared to the Democratic Party.”
If it goes bad? For a man who is in his 15th year as a Senator, apparently truth stopped at the office door of blind loyalty to a President and Vice-President who launched a war based upon lies they fed to the American people, and then perpetuated the dishonesty by further lies and incompetence.
[Walter Brasch’s 17th book is Sinking the Ship of State: The Presidency of George W. Bush, available at amazon.com, bn.com, and most bookstores. Dr. Brasch, an award-winning social issues journalist, is professor of journalism at Bloomsburg University.]