Sep 282006

We’ve heard the rhetoric before. Republicans are repackaging their “tough on crime” speeches as “tough on terror” and complaining that anyone who stands in the way of increasing executive power at the expense of individual rights is “coddling” — criminals or terrorists, your pick.

And so we have Dennis Hastert saying:

“Democrat Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and 159 of her Democrat colleagues voted today in favor of more rights for terrorists,” Hastert said in a statement. “So the same terrorists who plan to harm innocent Americans and their freedom worldwide would be coddled, if we followed the Democrat plan.”

The “Democratic plan” is simply to expect the government to obey existing laws rather than brushing them aside with a quick legislative assist, but what is truly offensive and disingenuous about Hastert’s attack is the assumption that Democrats want to “coddle terrorists” rather than “protect the innocent.” It is astonishing that the GOP, so long distrustful of the ability of government to make decisions wisely, is now populated with members who are certain that the executive branch will never err in taking custody of a suspected terrorist. The rights that protect against a wrongful conviction — freedom from tortured confessions and a ban against the inherently unreliable evidence that coercion produces, confrontation of witnesses, discovery of evidence, judicial review and more — can be safely withheld because of … presidential infallibility?

There is no presumption of innocence in the Republican Bill of Rights. Those who oppose the president’s “terrorism” bills recognize that law enforcement agencies — from the smallest police department to Homeland Security and the CIA — don’t get it right every time. Click on TalkLeft’s innocence cases link to see how often the government gets it wrong. Or read about Maher Arar or Brandon Mayfield. Why are Hastert and his ilk so convinced that it is unnecessary to provide terrorism detainees with basic procedural protections that can save the falsely accused from a lifetime of indefinite detention?

It is monstrous that the GOP uses respect for our nation’s founding principles as an object of political ridicule and scorn. But it has been monstrous for Republicans to work tirelessly to imprison so many for so long while attacking Democrats for being “soft on crime.” And just as it has been frustrating to watch Democrats capitulate on crime (it was Bill Clinton, after all, who signed legislation that severely limited the scope of federal habeas corpus review), it is sad to see Democrats who are unwilling to protect our constitutional values today.

Harry Reid, on the Ed Schultz show today, said there just weren’t enough votes to sustain a filibuster. Why not? Why would anyone in the legislative branch tolerate an executive power grab of this dimension? Democrats had the power to stop this arrogant betrayal of the Constitution. Why didn’t they exercise that power? Because they didn’t want to seem soft on terrorism? What kind of politician are you if you can’t explain the difference between “coddling terrorists” and “protecting the innocent from an incompetent branch of government”?

At a time when progressive politics finally seemed to be overcoming a political structure perpetuated by hysteria and lies, the failure of Democrats to unite today in support of core American values is more than disappointing. Those who did not fight for democratic values will look back on today in shame.

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