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In a bad year, some good folks who stood out
Mon Jan 1, 2007 03:06

Google News Alert for: Military Commissions Act of 2006

In a bad year, some good folks who stood out
St. Petersburg Times - St. Petersburg,FL,USA
... of-the-year columns are a time for reflection, but 2006 has turned ... openers, it was the year that Congress passed the Military Commissions Act, stripping the ...

Worst 2006 civil liberties violations
Nashua Telegraph (subscription) - Nashua,NH,USA
... 2. The Military Commissions Act of 2006: This was the “compromise” legislation that gave Bush even more power than he initially had to detain and try so ...

These end-of-the-year columns are a time for reflection, but 2006 has turned out to be one of those years best left to history's ignominious dustbin.

For openers, it was the year that Congress passed the Military Commissions Act, stripping the prisoners in Guantanamo - who have been held captive for years without charge - of any legitimate chance to challenge their confinement. This act will be remembered as a hysterical overreach. It will undoubtedly take its place next to the Alien and Sedition Acts, the Espionage Act of 1917 and Roosevelt's military order interning ethnic Japanese as representing the worst of our national impulses.

In 2006 we were alerted to President Bush's addiction to signing statements. The Boston Globe reported that Bush had written his own addendum to more than 750 newly enacted laws. Yet this outrageous affront to congressional power barely registered a whimper from the simpering Republican-controlled Congress.

It was the year that Samuel Alito took over the U.S. Supreme Court seat of retiring Justice Sandra Day O'Connor and almost instantly confirmed that he would add his vote to the Scalia-Thomas side of the court. The side that generally considers the Bill of Rights a list of intellectual niceties to be dispatched when inconvenient to those in power.

The USA Patriot Act was reauthorized without any serious attempt to reinstate civil liberties safeguards, and the president maintained his warrantless domestic wiretapping program as Congress fatuously debated bills to hand him the power he had already usurped.

In fact, there was only one serious bright spot to 2006, and that was the midterm elections. So, just as Time magazine named "You" as its person of the year, I award the first of the fourth annual Freeby awards to the American electorate. Finally, the American people said "enough" of the Republican leadership's incompetent, arrogant and freedom-snuffing stewardship. It was a step back from the breach.

As to the year's singular civil liberties hero, the Freeby goes to MSNBC anchor Keith Olbermann. The journalist's scathing commentaries illuminated the gathering danger of the Bush administration in a way no one else with a mainstream audience was willing or able to do. Taking his cues from the sportscaster he once was and from Edward R. Murrow, Olbermann eloquently called 'em as he saw 'em.

In responding to the fearmongering election ads by the Republican National Committee featuring Osama bin Laden, Olbermann fired back: "Eleven presidents ago, a chief executive reassured us that we have nothing to fear but fear itself. His distant successor has wasted his administration insisting that there is nothing we can have but fear itself." Powerfully good stuff.

A close contender for the prize was George Christian, who runs computer services for a consortium of 27 libraries in Connecticut. He and three colleagues spent two years valiantly battling the FBI's attempt to violate their patrons' privacy.

Even as the Justice Department was ensuring Congress that the FBI was not using its powers under the USA Patriot Act to access library records, the agency was doing exactly that. In July 2005, Christian was handed a national security letter by FBI agents demanding to see the libraries' Internet activity for a certain day in February of that year. Christian was also told that by law he couldn't tell a soul about it.

National security letters are administrative subpoenas generated within the Justice Department without any court oversight - a power that the Patriot Act substantially widened.

Christian broke the law by alerting his executive committee to the FBI demand, and together those four courageous library professionals decided that it was their ethical duty to fight rather than turn over what they believed would be the Internet activity of 300,000 library patrons without a legitimate court order to do so.

They also went to court as "John Doe" to demand that the gag order be lifted so they could alert Congress to the abusive use of the letters as it was debating the reauthorization of the Patriot Act.

In the end, the courts didn't act swiftly enough and the Patriot Act was passed with Congress under the misperception that libraries hadn't been FBI targets. Then, in June 2006, the FBI abandoned its efforts to obtain the information from the Connecticut consortium. Obviously it wasn't vital to national security.

But the most important Freeby this year goes to the U.S. Supreme Court for its ruling in Hamdan vs. Rumsfeld. By striking down the president's military commissions as violative of the separation of powers, the Uniform Code of Military Justice as well as the Geneva Conventions, the high court sent a clear message that it would stand for the rule of law and our constitutional system even in the face of a foreign terrorist threat. It was a historical high point for the court.

Goodbye and good riddance, 2006. The Freeby winners and near-winners were about the only things to commend ya.

[Last modified December 31, 2006, 07:14:15]

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