Nov 19, 2001
On November 13, President George Bush signed a military order to give himself the authority to order any non-U.S. citizens to undergo a trial in a military court, so long as Bush has “reason to believe” that these individuals are involved in “international terrorism.” He didn’t even bother to go to Congress or the Supreme Court for authorization – even though these bodies have given him every authority he asked for since September 11.
Under his unilaterally declared Order, Bush can have the Pentagon haul someone he alleges to be a terrorist before a secret military tribunal. He need give no reason for his allegations. He need not offer even one shred of proof to take them to this secret court system. His Secretary of Defense can then make up the rules he wants about how the so-called trial will be carried out. He can designate where the trial will take place, “outside or within the United States.” He sets all the rules for the trial, including what proof is required. Almost any evidence can be introduced, including hearsay or a confession acquired by torture. At the same time, the Pentagon can legally conceal any evidence which might exonerate the person by citing national security.
The verdict will be rendered by a tribunal of three military officers. And even here, a unanimous verdict is not necessary. That person can be executed, without any right to appeal – not to any other court, or even to public opinion, since all the proceedings can be carried out in complete secrecy.
Thus, a person can be secretly accused of being a terrorist, arrested, tried and executed, all within just a few hours – and all quite legally, just like under other military dictatorships over the ages, such as those that have plagued Chile, Argentina, Peru, Turkey, Greece, El Salvador, etc., when people have disappeared, never to be heard from again.
Even William Safire, the very conservative former Nixon speech writer and current New York Times columnist, condemned Bush’s military tribunals as being “military kangaroo courts.” And Amnesty International pointed out that Bush’s Military Order violates the 1949 Geneva Conventions, that were ratified by the USA in 1955, “that require that prisoners of war must be tried in courts which guarantee fundamental rights of fairness, including the right of appeal.”
We are told that we live in a democracy, where the rule of law is supreme. Of course, those laws are never a guarantee of anything, as the countless victims of U.S. repression have found out over and over again throughout U.S. history, including workers’ leaders of all major strikes. But even those laws can be undone, those institutions can be bypassed, not just by a vote of Congress or a formal decision by the Supreme Court – but simply by one stroke of a president’s pen.
It is not yet clear when Bush will make use of these secret military tribunals. It’s obvious that the government has already been using many of the methods associated with them in the round-ups of hundreds of people who have been accused of no crimes. Bush’s edict just “legalizes” what they were doing any way. But Bush’s edict shows that the democratic rights we assume we have can be taken away at a moment’s notice – with no legal recourse. And what happens in this case with “non-citizens” can happen as easily – by another stroke of a pen – to citizens.
No, the only rights that ordinary people have are those that we are ready to fight for and defend.