On Tuesday the U.S. Senate had the opportunity to put the rule of law ahead of fear-mongering and politics -- and failed spectacularly.
By a vote of 61-37 the Senate defeated an amendment to the defense appropriations bill that would remove three troubling provisions that have raised the spectre of a presidential veto. The bill, if passed, would allow the U.S. to hold those suspected of involvement with terrorism - including US citizens - indefinitely without charge. In other words, forget about that American concept of innocent unless proven guilty; if los federales suspect you're involved in terrorism, you are guilty unless you can prove otherwise.
The bill would also require civilian law enforcement to turn over anyone suspected of terrorist activities into military custody. The bill would also place further restrictions on the transfer of detainees at Guantanamo who were cleared of all charges.
Holding a suspect indefinitely without bringing charges makes a complete mockery out of our criminal (in)justice system. Without being informed of the specific charges against him, an inmate can't muster a legal defense and his right to a speedy trial is taken away. The very notion of indefinite detention should make us all shudder - but it won't. After all, who's going to raise a stink about someone accused of plotting to blow up a building? He's not a person, he's a terrorist. He has no rights.
But once you've demonized one group of defendants, it makes it easier to demonize the next group. And who will that be? And who will stand up to challenge the state then?
Liberty is a funny creature. We all have the right to be left alone by our government. But, at the same time, that means we can't be protected from every possible threat out there. It's a trade-off we make. The more freedom and liberty you have, the less security you get. And vice versa.
What's more important to you?
When we allow the government to take away our rights - no matter how tangentially - we are allowing the fox into the hen house. There will always be a rationale. C'mon, these are really, really bad people.
It's happened to the Fourth Amendment. Where once we were protected against unreasonable search and seizure, today it's little more than a piece of paper. In the name of security and efficiency we have allowed one of our most important freedoms to be whittled away to nothing.
Today it's suspected terrorists. Who will it be tomorrow?