In a memorable scene from Michael Moore's "Fahrenheit 9/11," Rep. John Conyers explains how it was that Congress passed the USA Patriot Act without knowing many of its provisions. "Sit down, my son," the courtly Michigan Democrat said. "We don't read most of the bills."
That reality does not appear to have changed much. In back-to-back years, Congress rushed through two sweeping pieces of legislation - the Military Commissions Act of 2006 and the Protect America Act of 2007 - without a full understanding of the powers being granted to President George W. Bush.
Now, the U.S. Senate is expected to consider legislation scrapping one part of the 2006 law, its denial of habeas corpus - the ancient protection against arbitrary arrests - to foreigners whom Bush has designated "unlawful enemy combatants."
The lead New York Times editorial on Sept. 17 praised this effort to "reverse one of the worst aspects of the 2006 law" that "established military tribunals to try any foreigner that Mr. Bush labels an illegal combatant." But the Times editors - like many members of Congress - don't appear to have read the law through to the end.
If they had, they would know that the Military Commissions Act creates a parallel legal system not limited to foreigners. The law could put "any person," including those "in breach of an allegiance or duty to the United States" before a military tribunal if the person "knowingly and intentionally aids an enemy of the United States."
Who has "an allegiance or duty to the United States" if not an American citizen? That provision would not presumably apply to Osama bin Laden or al-Qaeda, nor would it apply generally to foreigners.
This section of the law appears to be singling out American citizens who are deemed (by the Bush administration) enemy fellow travelers. It seeks to put them inside Bush's "star chamber" proceedings if they are alleged to aid and abet foreign enemies.
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My comment: If the e-mail I receive from my friends on the Right are any indication, the really BIG issue is wither or not Barak Obama showed proper respect during the singing of the National Anthem. I regularly correspond with four people who could be considered right of center (in most cases, that's an understatement). Of those, 3/4 have expressed concern or irately indicated they couldn't vote for Obama under the circumstances (like they were actually considering voting for him at some time in the past).
Not one has ever suggested they're concerned about the erosion of the foundations of our democracy. NOT ONE! They're OK with he destruction of the Constitution that has served this nation well for over two hundred years ... just as long as you wear the right lapel pin.
I'm glad to see there are people out there who have their priorities straight.