Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Why Habeas Corpus is Critical

I missed the October 3 story in the Rocky Mountain News about the lawsuit alleging wrongful arrest of a Denver man by the Secret Service on June 16.

His crime? Walking up to Dick Cheney while the Vice-President was glad-handing supporters in an open, unrestricted forum and telling Cheney to his face that administration policies were reprehensible.

According to court papers, the man and his son walked on. But when they retraced their route some ten minutes later, they were stopped by a member of Cheney’s Secret Service detail who accused the Colorado citizen of assaulting the vice-president, handcuffed him and took him to the country jail, demanding that the local police issue a summons for harassment.

Our good citizen did not touch or in any way pose an imminent threat to Dick Cheney’s physical well being. That is obvious in that the Secret Service agent made no reference to “battery,” which does involve attack on another’s physical person, and instructed local police to lodge a summons for harassment.

I might not have returned to the story except that I came across this passage from Helen Nichols’ book “An Open Letter to George W. Bush” published earlier this year by BookSurge LLC:

“Twice during your administration when I sent letters to the editor...my friend Mary, who considers herself a moderate Republican…said I was probably going to be put on some kind of ‘special list’….Mary is too afraid to speak out [or do] something as brave (or as ‘foolhardy’ as she describes it) as exercising her First Amendment right of free speech in ‘these days.’…When I dropped off those letters at the post office, I did have moments afterward when I wished I could take them back – moments when…my fearful imagination took over. I imagined Dick Cheney…warning me [to] stop sending letters to newspapers criticizing our commander in chief – or else.”

Helen and her friend Mary have not been accused of anything – yet. But in light of the treatment of the Denver man, there clearly is a propensity within at least one U.S. armed security force to try to intimidate citizens who simply seek to communicate with those who occupy political office. While Cheney may not have actually said of his critic the equivalent of Henry II of England’s “Who will rid me of this meddlesome priest?”, it is well known that audiences at most events where Cheney appears are pre-screened to “weed out” opposition voices that might be raised to protest administration policies.

Helen and Mary, along with every other American who has succumbed to the siren call to forfeit civil rights for “security,” have started down the road whose grim milestones run from arbitrary arrest and extended periods behind bars because some “authority” designates you a “material witness” to vigilante “justice” characterized by verdicts and sentences without any (let alone fair) trials, the use of torture, indefinite secret detention because the president decides you are an “unlawful combatant,” renditions and other “disappearances” – including death and disposal of corpses in secret unmarked graves.

And you wonder why so many individuals and groups hold that the foundation of democratic government of the people, by the people, and for the people is habeas corpus?

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