Michael Barnett
Democratic State Central Committee of California
Alameda County Democratic Central Committee
Former President, Lamorinda Democratic Club

We are at most one vote away from losing some of our most basic freedoms. Our last line of defense against those with no understanding of liberty lies in the Supreme Court. The membership of that court will be in the hands of the next president.

One June 12, five justices voted to uphold the United States Constitution. At the same time, four justices voted to deny basic human rights to detainees at Guantanamo . We all agree that a society may sentence terrorists who have committed crimes. But the war on terror is not served in any way by imprisoning innocent people without any charges or fair hearings or access to attorneys. The basic rights of habeus corpus is for a detained person to be heard in court and released from custody if not held lawfully.

Four years ago I spoke about the abuses of Guantanamo at a meeting of the Lamorinda Democratic Club and then raised this issue again in the club’s March 2006 newsletter. I reminded members about “a ten-year-old Afghan boy who was sent to work at a compound of a local militia leader in 2002. Shortly thereafter, American soldiers stormed the compound, looking for Taliban soldiers.”

“This ten-year-old boy was captured and taken to the U.S. base in Gardez, where he was questioned and kicked. From there he was transferred to Bagram, for more interrogation; and then he was blindfolded and hooded and flown to Guantanamo Bay Naval Base.
“I asked whether this child had ever fired a gun. He hadn’t. Was his family informed that their son was alive and in captivity. No. Did he see a lawyer? No. Was he ever charged with any crime? No. Was there ever a trial or even a hearing? No. This child was held for 17 months and then released.

“But I was disturbed not just because this Administration does this to children, but because they do this to hundreds of adults. And after still another two years has anyone in Guantanamo had a hearing ? How many innocent people continue to be held without an opportunity to defend themselves?

“What kind of people plan and perpetuate such behavior? What kind of Attorney General can condone such illegal acts? What kind of President justifies the use of torture? What kind of citizens can stand by quietly while basic human rights are violated?

“This complete and defiant disregard for norms accepted by all other democratic countries is not limited to Guantanamo … Our government has engaged in an official policy of ‘extraordinary rendition’ in which we enable others to torture suspects. Our government itself has engaged in waterboarding.
“Our president talks frequently about freedom. How can there be freedom without any respect for human dignity and human rights?

“The people we elect are responsible for these acts. These violations are done in our name. Our silence would make us part of their tyranny.”

We now face an election in November for a president who will nominate the next members of the Supreme Court. George W. Bush appointed John Roberts and Samuel Alito, who both voted today to deny the rule of law to detainees. Roberts went so far as to say the decision “is not really about the detainees at all, but about control of federal policy regarding enemy combatants.â€? In the minds of four justices, the detainees are not real people. They could not possibly be innocent and therefore need no fair trial to determine, if after six years at Guantanamo , their detention was ever justified in the first place.

Of course bad decisions in the Supreme Court go far beyond Guantanamo . They affect every aspect of our lives and freedoms. We, the American people, must take responsibility for choosing the next president and assure that it is someone who will only nominate justices who will respect human dignity. The justices who challenge our basic rights and our liberty were all appointed by Republican presidents. We must all devote ourselves to electing a Democratic president. To quote Hillary Clinton, we must “work our hearts out” to get Barack Obama elected as our next president. Our country’s future depends on it.

Michael Barnett
Democratic State Central Committee of California
Alameda County Democratic Central Committee
Former President, Lamorinda Democratic Club