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Congress Cans the Constitution, as Chicago Police Abduct Activists

In the wake of this week’s House votes on the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act — which left the NDAA’s domestic military detention provisions even more noxious than they were before — one might legitimately wonder what country we live in. Once again, our nation has demonstrated that the ”land of the free” is an … Continued

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In the wake of this week’s House votes on the 2013 National Defense Authorization Act — which left the NDAA’s domestic military detention provisions even more noxious than they were before — one might legitimately wonder what country we live in.

Once again, our nation has demonstrated that the ”land of the free” is an empty slogan, a vestigial nod to a constitutional vision that has long inspired the world yet seems wasted on our own shores. For what purpose, exactly, did the United States squander decades, trillions of dollars, and thousands of lives during the Cold War?

FDR was right: “The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.” More so than any terror threat, it is the fear mongering about national security that presents the greatest danger to our Republic’s future. No “home of the brave” would be brow-beaten by fears of “giving rights to terrorists” into resigning its own rights, inviting repression upon itself by allowing government powers long used to define authoritarianism.

Welcome to the U.S. House of Representatives! Is it too generous to say that democracy in America hangs by a thread?

The America I know wasn’t intimidated: thousands have mobilized all over the country to defend their rights. Dozens of Occupy sites joined with Tea Party chapters in national days of action in December, February, and decentralized actions dating back even earlier. Grassroots activists have organized forums, rallies, marches, protests, vigils, flashmobs, street theater, and more from coast-to-coast.

This week, Hawaii (a blue state) joined Arizona (red) and Virginia (purple), in addition to a dozen local jurisdictions across eight states — led by the conservative Colorado county that hosts the Air Force Academy — that have raised their voices decrying the NDAA’s detention provisions and demanding due process.

The failures of Congress, or for that matter the (to quote…ahem…Sarah Palin) “lamestream press” to pay any heed to these myriad voices suggests a process problem even beyond military detention. If our elected leaders are beholden to executive power and hellbent on eroding the judiciary’s (and their own) ability to check future abuses, does it even matter what We the People do?

It’s a bit like watching a Republic fall apart at the seams, in slow motion.

If a transpartisan coalition, uniting everyone in the country who cares enough about constitutional rights to actually understand them, from Green party lawyers to Tea party military vets, from San Diego to Maine, can not force Congress to respect the principles every member has sworn an oath to defend, then what possibly could?

It gets better…er, worse.

Not only has Congress given its institutional middle finger to the Constitution, but the Chicago Police Department — which not long ago tortured hundreds of innocent African-American men into false confessions (sound familiar?) — is offering clues about what life under the NDAA might one day look like. Perhaps still reeling from the memory of the 1968 Democratic National Convention, the CPD has learned from its mistakes, preempting First Amendment activity by abducting activists. [UPDATE: Several of the activists abducted on Wednesday have since been accused of terrorism.]

This weekend’s NATO summit has already inspired crackdowns by the city government. Wednesday night’s warrantless raid of a Bridgeport apartment complex, and abduction of nine activists, took the militarization of domestic police to a new level. Chicago seems like a banana republic in its casual disregard for basic rights: the detainees were held incommunicado for a night, shackled hand & feet, and denied access to counsel.

Perhaps the banana republic reference fits more closely than we might like. The US Army has long trained foreign militaries to violate human rights at the WHINSEC / School of the Americas. Are the Chicago police simply bringing those chickens home to roost?

About 15 years ago, in the mid-90s, my housemates and I were mugged by a gang of Chicago police officers a few blocks from our Rogers Park apartment. The next week, I visited the police precinct and picked the officers’ faces out of a book of photos. That was the last I heard of the process.

The same lack of transparency, and predictable lack of accountability, is apparent in the CPD’s refusal to even acknowledge the fact of Wednesday night’s raid, let alone inform legal counsel for the detainees’ about their whereabouts. Activists raided by police because of their speech? Disappeared and held in shackles?

These are not things that are supposed to happen in America. Millions of armed servicemembers did not die in foreign wars so that timid politicians could legislate away the basic freedoms they fought to protect.

Or, put another way, are the “toughest” members of Congress — by voting not to let journalists, or translators, developmentally challenged mentally ill targets of FBI entrapment plots (like this one, these others, or still more), environmental and animal rights activists, supporters of Ron Paul, or military veterans have a day in court before subjected to arbitrary and indefinite imprisonment in military custody — ultimately doing the work of terrorists for them? Who’s the enemy here?

As an attorney, I’d suggest that members of Congress who opposed the Smith-Amash amendments take care, and watch their words.

If Big Brother decides (through what process, one wonders?) that Representatives Landry, Rigell, Gohmert and their allies are the real threats to our Republic (which is debatable), or our Constitution (which is undeniable), they may find themselvesin a military brig one of these days.

They might want a right to trial then.

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