Put a frog into a
pot of boiling water, the well-known parable begins, and out that frog will
jump to escape the obvious danger. Put that same frog into cool water and heat
the pot slowly, and it will not react until it's too late. The survival
instincts of a frog, we're told, are better designed to discern abrupt changes.
Gradual transformation�like the measured raising of water temperature�can sneak
up on the little croaker.
I was reminded of
the proverbial frog as I considered how the recently passed Military
Commissions Act (MCA) managed to get lost in a shuffle of naughty e-mails and
bipartisan accusations. This isn't meant to downplay the MCA.
As Michael C. Dorf,
a professor of Law at Columbia University, explains: "It immunizes
government officials for past war crimes; it cuts the United States off from
its obligations under the Geneva Conventions; and it all but eliminates access
to civilian courts for non-citizens -- including permanent
residents whose children are citizens -- that the government, in its nearly
unreviewable discretion, determines to be unlawful enemy combatants."
Nasty stuff, indeed
. . . but since fiddling with human rights has long been a hobby for America's
power elite, it'd be misguided to assign all the blame to the current
administration. The erosion of freedom has been a slow steady process, not
unlike boiling a pot of water.
Adams signed the Alien and Sedition Acts in 1798. Under this ugly bit of
legislation, I might've receive a fine "not exceeding two thousand
dollars" and/or "imprisonment not exceeding two years" simply
for writing an article such as this.
Woodrow Wilson got
his own Espionage and Sedition Act in June 1917. Here's a sample of that law:
"Whoever, when the United States is at war, shall willfully cause or
attempt to cause insubordination, disloyalty, mutiny, or refusal of duty in the
military or naval forces of the United States, shall be punished by a fine of
not more than $10,000 or imprisonment of not more than 20 years, or both."
Bill Clinton signed the Anti-Terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act into law
on April 24, 1996. This USAPATRIOT Act prequel contained provisions that
Clinton himself admitted "makes a number of ill-advised changes in our
immigration laws, having nothing to do with fighting terrorism." This
unconstitutional salvo did little to address so-called terrorism but plenty to
limit the civil liberties of anyone -- immigrant or resident -- who disagrees
with U.S. policies, foreign or domestic.
Of course, there
was Abe Lincoln suspending habeas corpus during the Civil War. The FBI's
notorious Counterintelligence Program, COINTELPRO (1956-1971), was in place
through four presidential administrations -- two from each party. Also,
Japanese-Americans in the 1940s just might have something to say about Franklin
Delano Roosevelt's concept of freedom and human rights. FDR signed Executive
Order 9066 in February 1942, thus interning over 100,000 without due process.
In the name of taking on the architects of German prison camps, he became the
architect of American prison camps.
Coming on the heels
of other recent legal machinations, the MCA might best be viewed as adding a
few degrees on that little thermometer stuck, well, you know where. Is it me,
or is it getting awfully warm in here?
Mickey Z. can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net.