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A Slap in the Face of the Crawford Caligula

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Court Says Military Cannot Hold ‘Enemy Combatant’ (AP and NYT)

The Bush administration cannot use new anti-terrorism laws to keep U.S. residents locked up indefinitely without charging them, a divided federal appeals court said Monday. The ruling was a harsh rebuke of one of the central tools the administration believes it has to combat terror.

u201CTo sanction such presidential authority to order the military to seize and indefinitely detain civilians,” Judge Diana Gribbon Motz wrote, u201Ceven if the President calls them u2018enemy combatants,’ would have disastrous consequences for the Constitution — and the country.u201D

u201CWe refuse to recognize a claim to power,u201D Judge Motz added, u201Cthat would so alter the constitutional foundations of our Republic.u201D

In the 2-1 decision, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals panel found that the federal Military Commissions Act doesn’t strip Ali al-Marri, a legal U.S. resident, of his constitutional rights to challenge his accusers in court. It ruled the government must allow al-Marri to be released from military detention.

Now we’ve got something going on. Now there’s a little something to play for. This ruling draws a clear line in the sand on one of George W. Bush’s most egregious abuses of the illegitimate power he was given (by the courts) in 2000: his self-proclaimed, arbitrary, unchecked right to designate anyone he pleases an “enemy combatant” and keep them locked up indefinitely in military detention.

Now it seems certain that the case will reach the Supreme Court, and we will have a clear-cut answer at last: Are we still a semblance of a Republic, where our liberties are inalienable — or is our freedom simply the “gift” of an autocrat (elected or otherwise), who can bestow it or take it away at his own will?

Bush tried to enshrine this bogus, banana-republic power into law last year, with the ludicrous and sinister Military Commissions Act (MCA) that breezed through Congress with the full-throated “jawohls” of the rubber-stamp Republicans and the mildest, most token opposition from the Democrats. In usual Bushist fashion, the law was weasel-worded in such a way as to leave huge, deliberate ambiguities in its meaning. Thus Democrats and the few “moderate” Republicans could say that it was intended only for suspect foreigners (as if it were OK to lock up anyone in the world indefinitely on the unchallengeable say-so of whatever moral idiot manages to slither down the greasy path to the White House). But Bushist cognoscenti — especially those in the courts — could use the same language to uphold the Dear Leader’s dictatorial powers.

But Bush has run into a spot of bother lately with a few of his judicial appointees — such as Judge Reggie Walton, who handed down a stiff sentence to Scooter Libby — that honorable and respected public servant who tried to flim-flam the FBI about his role in crippling the nation’s ability to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. (Walton also had some choice words for the Establishment types who intervened on behalf of poor, poor, poor little Scooter.) And now the 4th District, where the Administration has tried to steer all of the cases involving its tyrannical usurpations, has betrayed the Master as well. For the appeals panel clearly saw — and openly named — the true intentions of the MCA, as SCOTUSblog notes:

The Circuit Court found the government’s claim of “inherent” presidential authority to order military detention of civilians to be “breathtaking,” and was broad enough even to allow detention of U.S. citizens.