Every day America honors the patriots who have given their lives for freedom. Our hearts swell when we hear Lee Greenwood sing “I’m proud to be an American/Where at least I know I’m free/And I won’t forget the men who died/Who gave that right to me.” But our president’s actions this week in establishing secret military tribunals to try non-citizens whom he suspects of terrorism have put all of us on the spot: are we still willing to risk our lives for the freedoms our Constitution promises us and that our forefathers bled and died for?
In his Military Order on “The Detention, Treatment and Trial of Certain Non-Citizens in the War Against Terrorism,” the president arrogates to himself the right to put any non-citizen, in the United States or elsewhere, whom he personally suspects of terrorism on trial before a military tribunal — a tribunal that, unlike our civil courts, is under his authority as commander-in-chief.
The military tribunals are secret unless the president chooses to make
them open. He further claims the privilege of
inspecting the trial record for “review and final decision by me,” so he can convict anyone whom the tribunal acquits.
The defendant is not allowed to appeal to anyone, not even the Supreme Court.
The Constitution nowhere gives the president the authority to do this.
Indeed it specifically prohibits him, or anybody else,
from doing it. The Sixth Amendment says, “In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and
public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed.”
It does not distinguish between citizens and non-citizens in granting
The administration’s excuse for openly violating the supreme law of our land is a pathetic exercise in question-begging.
“Foreign terrorists who commit war crimes against the United States in my judgment are not entitled to, do not deserve the protections of the American Constitution,” says the vice president. But the chief purpose of any trial is to figure out whether the person on trial is, in fact, a terrorist who has committed a war crime or an innocent person wrongly accused!
Terrorists deserve nothing from this country except a swift death, but anyone who comes before a court is presumed not to be a terrorist until proven guilty. Our Declaration of Independence lists the crimes of King George that justified the Revolution, among these were acting “to render the military independent of and superior to the civil power,” and “depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of trial by jury.”
But the president now expects to take away the right of trial by jury as he sees fit, and render the military courts superior to the civil courts. The president’s action threatens your freedoms. That’s right, you. “But I’m an American citizen! The order doesn’t affect me,” you say. It will, if the president orders your citizenship revoked.
“But he can’t revoke my citizenship. The 14th Amendment guarantees it,” you say. However, the president has just declared himself above the Constitution; he if is above the Sixth Amendment, he is above the 14th as well.
Undeniably, the president’s order may cause terrorists to be imprisoned who would otherwise murder more people, perhaps by the thousands as happened on Sept. 11. So we, the American people whose lives the president is trying to save, must decide for ourselves whether we are willing to risk death and the loss of those close to us to defend our freedom from arbitrary despotism.
Have we the same fortitude as the patriots who faced Cornwallis at Yorktown and died miserably in the mud so others would be free of King George’s tyranny? Or is freedom to be bought only at the price of our soldiers’ blood?
If we do still have the fiber of our ancestors, it is time to tell the
president so. As his employers, we must say to him that we do not want
him to destroy our liberties to defend our lives. For our lives will be
over in a hundred years, but we can save our liberties to pass down to
our descendants as along as America endures.
Daniel R. Baker resides in Joplin.