Wednesday, July 16, 2008

Okay, so according to a story that the NYT decided to bury on page 11 (because what we really need on the front page is a touching story about the harrowing links of death and violence between an Israeli and a Palestinian family--not saying it's not worthy material, but I think what I'm about to describe is a weensy bit more of an action item), the federal appeals court (fourth circuit) ruled 5-4 that the president can legally detain civilians in the U.S. as enemy combatants--indefinitely, without trial.

[That's military detention, by the way, not criminal or immigration-based. Someone should tell the government they can let go all the people they're holding for months and years for not having the right paperwork. Maybe that way fewer of them would die.]

From the NYT:

The decision was a victory for the Bush administration, which had maintained that a 2001 Congressional authorization to use military force after the Sept. 11 attacks granted the president the power to detain people living in the United States.

And a quote from one of the lawyers for the only person currently being detained in the U.S. as a military combatant:

"This decision means the president can pick up any person in the country — citizen or legal resident — and lock them up for years without the most basic safeguard in the Constitution, the right to a criminal trial,” Mr. Hafetz said.

However, it's apparently not that simple. The decision included seven different opinions, none of which constituted a majority. The VA appeals court is considered one of the most conservative in the nation, so this was surprising, but part of what makes this so complicated is that the man in question, one Ali al-Marri (a citizen of Qatar--I'm amazed they haven't been yelling about this) was here lawfully before being detained. The judges mainly differed on their criteria for whom the government could detain indefinitely:

1 opinion: members of organizations or nations against which Congress has authorized the use of force who also mean to harm people or property to further military goals.
1 opinion shared by four judges (minority decision): Indefinite detention by the executive is not lawful without a trial. Doesn't matter who you are, you get a criminal trial and then we figure out what to do with you.
1 opinion argued that if the government's accusations were true, al-Marri would be subject to detention, but that he had not received adequate process (others thought he had).

Things are currently very unclear as to what kind of precedent this case sets, but I suppose it's worth noting that every judge that wanted al-Marri still incarcerated was appointed by a Republican, and every judge in favor of his release was appointed by a Democrat.

Regardless of your opinion, elections certainly matter.

Side note: "al" in Arabic means "the." When it's part of a name, like for example "al-Asad," it forms a phrase ("al-Asad"="the lion"). You can't disconnect the two any more than you can disconnect Mc from Intosh--it doesn't mean the same thing in the original language and it's not the same name by any measure. (Or so my Arabic Lit professor taught us.)

So if the NYT could PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF GOD figure that out, it would make me very happy. I don't want to hear them talking about "Mr. Marri" or "Mr. Bashir" when their names are al-Marri and al-Bashir. Thank you.

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