Thursday, 16 December 2004

Bin Laden's Diminished Dream

Jon Henke and Wretchard get snaps for noticing this:
One year ago, Al Qaeda believed they should work against the United States, rather than working to destabilize the Arab regimes. One year ago, Al Qaeda was focusing outward, rather than inward. One year ago, Al Qaeda believed in coexistence with the House of Saud.

One year ago, Al Qaeda believed the Caliphate could best be established by detente with the House of Saud, and War against the United States.

Today, Al Qaeda seeks detente with the US, and war against the House of Saud.

Excellent catch. I’m still not Gizmodo. Er, whatever.

(þ: The Professor)

Habeas corpus

It may seem that we’ve been riding the Samizdata coattails recently, and maybe we have, but they’ve been on a roll and Britain is dealing with many of the same issues that the U.S. faces. Among these is habeas corpus. Our constitution provides us with guidance on the matter, thankfully, and it really hasn’t been as big of an issue as it might otherwise be.

The constitution allows Congress—some would say the President as well, during times of war (I disagree)—to place limits on habeas corpus, but in general it’s understood that the government may not violate it and must follow Congress’s will on the matter. In fact, the most notable, and contentious, example I can think of is the case of Yasser Hamdi. Even then, once it was established that Hamdi was born in the U.S.—and had a claim to U.S. citizenship—he was removed from Gitmo and brought to a U.S. prison where he stayed until released earlier this year, after renouncing his U.S. citizenship. Presumably, if caught in terrorist activities in the future, he won’t be given this kind of consideration.

Without getting too far into the difficulties around Gitmo, it seems to me that President Bush could have avoided that whole controversy by establishing military tribunals for the Gitmo inmates from the beginning, rather than asserting that they could be detained indefinitely with no judicial review at all. Perhaps a reader that is also a lawyer could provide some details and additional perspective.

My point in all of this—and I’ve definitely taken the long way around the barn getting there—is that habeas corpus is an essential barrier between us and a despotic government. Britain is dealing with that very issue now with regard to their own citizens:

I said that the power of detention [without charge or trial] is at present confined to foreigners and I would not like to give the impression that all that was necessary was to extend the power to United Kingdom citizens as well. In my opinion, such a power in any form is not compatible with our constitution. The real threat to the life of the nation, in the sense of a people living in accordance with its traditional laws and political values, comes not from terrorism but from laws such as these. That is the true measure of what terrorism may achieve. It is for Parliament to decide whether to give the terrorists such a victory.
In the U.S. people can be detained for some period of time (a couple of days for citizens, more for foreigners) and it isn’t really in dispute. Nor should it be. Congress can increase the length of detention without charge if they think it necessary (which I believe they did after 9/11) but it’s not indefinite, the Hamdi case notwithstanding (his citizenship was a point of dispute). It also seems to me that Jefferson had this one right:
“The Habeas Corpus secures every man here, alien or citizen, against everything which is not law, whatever shape it may assume.”—Thomas Jefferson to A. H. Rowan, 1798. ME 10:61
As a rule we should respect habeas corpus, and only limit it by exception, such as times of rebellion, as the constitution stipulates. See Article 1, Section 9, Clause 2:
The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.
Otherwise it should apply to all Americans in their dealings with the U.S. government wherever they are in the world, and should apply to foreigners while on U.S. soil, as stated in the law.


A new wonder

Brian Micklethwait at Samizdata has a post on the Millau Viaduct, the final link in the Paris-Barcelona autoroute, which opens today in southern France. More information on this long cable-stayed span—which cost €394 million ($530 million) for a 2.5 km (1.6 mile) span—is available here.