Constitutional rights and Acts of Sedition
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Should America grant terrorists constitutional rights or not? This is an issue that I struggle with. I like things to be black or white, but this issue seems to fall into a gray area. Common sense says of course not, they are terrorists and we are at war. They were captured on the battlefield. How can we grant them the same privileges as US citizens? We have to get intelligence out of them anyway possible. Maybe we can stop another 9/11 if the intelligence that we obtain is timely and accurate. We do not have time to play nice when lives are at risk. After all, this isn’t just some common criminal; this is a person that wants to kill as many people as he possibly can. An Islamic terrorist is man that values his death in martyrdom more than his life on earth.
So what is the problem: why do people want to give these monsters a fair trial? I know, it is crazy to even consider giving terrorists constitutional rights. I wrote a whole article explaining why KSM should not get a trial in federal court. I am aware of the problems involved with holding a public trial for terrorists, but on the other hand I do not trust the government. There is this line in the declaration of independence that says the following: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. If you go down further you will see a list of grievances against King George. They include the following:
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offenses
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighboring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies.
The importance of the Declaration of Independence
What does the Declaration of Independence have to do with terrorists? The Declaration of Independence is the document that America’s founders used to overthrow a tyrannical government. They did not want to submit to the authority of King George anymore. They determined that he was a tyrant, and used the Declaration of Independence to explain why.
If the founders were right and we agree with the founding of America, then we have to conclude that all men are created equal and have certain unalienable rights that are endowed by their creator. The Declaration of Independence does not say that all Americans have those rights; it says that all men have those rights. That includes terrorists that are not American citizens. America does not give us those rights, the Constitution does not give us those rights; the founders tell us that out rights come from our creator.
Why should we defend the terrorists? We should defend the rights of terrorists because I do not want the government to label me, or any other normal citizen as a terrorist. We already had the Department of Homeland Security release a report that warned law enforcement about right wing extremists. It said that law enforcement should keep an eye out for returning veterans, supporters of the second amendment, and people with Ron Paul bumper stickers. That covers a lot of people from all sides of the political spectrum. It is dangerous to create a mindset among the people that the government can ignore the laws of the land as long as we have a crisis. The US government does have precedent in place telling us that the government can suspend constitutional rights during wartime.
Historic use of war time powers
U.S. Constitution, Article
I, Section 9
The Privilege of the Writ of Habeas Corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in Cases of Rebellion or Invasion the public Safety may require it.
President Abraham Lincoln suspended habeas corpus during the United States Civil War. He justified his actions by saying that the existence of the United States was in jeopardy. In the case, Ex Parte Merryman (1861), the Supreme Court ruled that only Congress can suspend habeas corpus. The supreme court went on to say that even if Congress did pass a law suspending habeas corpus, only members of the military could have be held and tried by a military commission. Lincoln ignored the ruling saying that his oath to support, defend and protect the constitution required him to take necessary actions. It wasn’t until 1863 that congress finally did pass the habeas corpus act that formally suspended habeas corpus. It was a move that was not supported by everyone as displayed in this excerpt from the time:
New York Weekly Journal of Commerce, June 6, 1861. “Habeas Corpus” (excerpt)
The remark of one of the New York papers that the writ was “originally intended to secure the liberty of loyal men,” and that “it would be a gross perversion of its powers to employ it as the protecting shield of rebels,” is a specimen of the very tyranny which the writ of habeas corpus is designed to overcome. The writ was originally and always intended as a defence of the subject against the tyranny of the government; and nowhere is such defence more needed than under a government like our own. . .
Lincoln’s government went on to attack the press if they took editorial positions that were critical of the war. The Chicago Times was shut down, but only for one day. In first confiscation act of 1861 gave Lincoln the power to seize printing presses from anyone that was printing materials that aided abetted or promoted the enemies position.
Sedition Act of 1918
Another example of U.S. government suppressing our rights during wartime is the Sedition Act of 1918. President Woodrow Wilson passed the act which forbade Americans from using "disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language" about the United States government, Flag of the United States, or armed forces during war. The act also allowed the Postmaster General to deny mail delivery to dissenters of government policy during wartime. It was so abusive that congress repealed it in 1920.
There are other examples of the United States Government obstructing Citizen’s rights during war time. To go along with Lincoln and Wilson, we also have FDR with the internment of the Japanese, and George W. Bush and the suspension of habeas corpus for terrorists. That brings us all the way back to present day. How do we determine if these special powers should be applied by the government? This enemy in the War on Terror is not a nation and the war appears to be open ended. Should we allow the U.S. government to use it’s discretion about who is entitled to what rights? Will these determinations go on until “radical Islam” is eliminated? That will give the government war powers forever, since radical Islam will never be completely eliminated. It seems to go against what the Declaration of Independence tells us about all men being created equal. At the same time the government has an obligation to protect its Citizens from terrorists that want to kill as many of us as possible.
Everyone can come to their own way of thinking on this. It isn’t really black and white. I rely on my common sense and say someone like KSM should face a military tribunal, and others should be treated based on their individual circumstances. If we come to the point where ordinary citizens start getting lumped in with terrorists, then the government needs to be held in check. We can allow a little leeway when dealing with terrorists that want to kill us. We can not allow the government to use that inch. that we are willing to give in order to fight terrorism, as a way take a mile. Then the government would have the authority to attack the civil rights of ordinary Citizens.