Sunday, October 01, 2006

When the political gets personal: what the Military Commissions Act of 2006 means to one mediator and her family

Time for regime change in the U.S.Although this blog is, generally speaking, not political in nature, on rare occasions I do weigh in on political issues when there is reason to do so.

I have a reason today.

To learn why, simply read on. If you prefer to skip this, no hard feelings.

They say that the personal is political.

Every once in a while, the political gets personal.

No matter where you are in the world, you have probably read about last week's vote by the U.S. Senate to pass the innocuously titled Military Commissions Act of 2006--a bill governing the detention and prosecution of terror suspects.

It is, of course, disastrous for what it means to U.S. standing in the world court of public opinion and to American democracy and justice. It broadly redefines who may be deemed an enemy combatant to now include permanent residents of the U.S., strips detainees of their right to challenge their detentions in court through the centuries-old mechanism of habeas corpus, denies detainees full access to the evidence against them, allows for the use of aggressive interrogation techniques, and immunizes the executive branch from prosecution.

Bad enough in the abstract. Consider for a moment what that means on a personal level.

My husband, a British national, has been a permanent resident of the U.S. since 1972. Since that time he has raised three children, all born here in the U.S. As a professor of law, he has educated and mentored thousands of American attorneys, and as a mediator and arbitrator has assisted countless people resolve difficult disputes. Like most of us here, he is a taxpayer. He has been a productive and contributing member of American society since he arrived here 34 years ago. The U.S. has been both physical and emotional home to him for a very long time.

That has all changed for him.

Now, under the bill the Senate passed, permanent residents like my husband could be detained. He would be unable to challenge his detention in court. I would be denied information about where he is being held. And he could be held indefinitely by the U.S. government.

For the first time since he arrived in the U.S., he no longer feels safe. His position here feels precarious and uncertain. This is not the America he first knew. It’s not, for that matter, the America I grew up in.

We don't think we're being paranoid. Not when you stop to consider that our elected leaders are regularly accused of a lack of patriotism or even treason simply for speaking out against the war in Iraq. And if that's what members of Congress can look forward to, is it paranoia or just good common sense to wonder what might lead to detention for a mere permanent resident like my husband? One too many leftist letters to the editor of the local newspaper? An unguarded comment to his students about American constitutional law? A donation to the wrong charitable cause?

As one letter writer to the Boston Globe put it yesterday:

I grew up in Argentina during the rule of a military junta that disappeared more than 30,000 people. I know that when a president has the sole power to detain people he deems to be enemies, when he alone can set the rules for interrogation, when detained people don't have the right to go to court, and when laws are written to immunize officials who have already committed torture, one is no longer living in a democracy but in a dictatorship.
The political is now personal. The question is, What will you and I do about it? Before it's too late to ask, What can you and I do about it?