My plans to retrace Captain Cook's unfinished voyage have been postponed a year while I work on the next Marine Diesel Basics book and get my new boat SV Oceandrifter ready for sea.
So much seems to be happening these days and everyone seems to be so busy and have so little time (so much for time-saving machines!) that I’ve decided to start a new occasional series to try to bring to your attention some of the more interesting, quirky, amusing and alarming stories from around the world.
I start today with a truly alarming development in the United States – the signing by President Obama of the “National Defense Authorization Act”. The Act gives the US military the legal power to detain any person anywhere in the world without trial for an indefinite period of time. This means that even a US citizen can be detained off main street, never shown any evidence against him or her, never charged and be imprisoned forever with no recourse.
Of course, its defenders will say that this will never happen – then why have such power enshrined in law? Time and time again, history has shown that citizens and societies need to be protected from arbitrary rulers – that’s why, in democracies, judges are separate from the government!
President Bush had already claimed the power of indefinite detention without trial, but his suspension of Habeas Corpus was strongly contested inside America and around the world. After all, one of the principle freedoms for any citizen in any country is freedom from arbitrary detention by their government – ie no government has the right to kidnap a person off the street and hold him or her without trial for an indefinite period.
Now President Obama has signed this power into law – Hapeas Corpus is dead.
The right of Habeas Corpus was mentioned in Magna Carta in 1215. This charter, signed by king John of England and his nobles to constrain the king’s arbitrary powers, states:
“No Freeman shall be taken or imprisoned, or be disseized of his Freehold, or Liberties, or free Customs, or be outlawed, or exiled, or any other wise destroyed; nor will We not pass upon him, nor condemn him, but by lawful judgment of his Peers, or by the Law of the land.”
The first recorded use in England of habeas corpus ad subjiciendum is believed to have been in 1305.
After the original 13 Colonies won independence from Britain – partly in rebellion at the arbitrary government from London – the U.S. Constitution specifically included the habeas procedure in the Suspension Clause (Clause 2), located in Article One, Section 9. This states that:
“The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion, the public safety may require it.”
No doubt some would argue that the threat of terrorism is the same as rebellion or invasion. The difference is that what the Constitution allows habeas corpus to be SUSPENDED. The new law ABOLISHES the right. There is no time limit, no definition of circumstances, no requirement for a review. Citizens the world over know from experience that governments and politicians never give up power unless compelled to do so.
Nobel Peace Prize winning President Obama has said that he will not use the law. So why did he sign it into law? Long after his medical reforms have foundered for lack of money, and his surge in Afghanistan has cost more lives and achieved nothing, Obama will be remembered as the president who signed away the most basic freedom of every citizen – freedom from arbitrary arrest and imprisonment by its own government.
If someone is a danger to society, let the government prove its case. If it cannot or will not, the person should go free.