Tuesday, January 13, 2004

Rights & Reason: Unending War, Unlimited Power

Bruce Fein, an attorney and Washington Times columnist, endorses the view that President Bush has unlimited war powers. He says we must allow the president to unilaterally suspend the writ of habeas corpus so that he can indefinitely detain anyone—including American citizens—without any due process restrictions. Fein says there's no substantial risk for abuse of these powers:
The president's muscular war powers asserted in the Hamdi case could conceivably occasion injustice against a few in pursuit of safety and freedom for hundreds of millions. Cases of mistaken identity are possible, although persuasive evidence of the same has yet to surface. And President Bush theoretically could contrive justifications for enemy combatant designations to punish dissenters or popularly disfavored minorities. But he has not done so. No credible evidence suggests the Guantanamo Bay or three illegal enemy combatant detainees have been imprisoned for nefarious reasons.

With history in mind, the Supreme Court will sustain presidential war powers in Hamdi and companion cases. The tiny risk of presidential overreaching is dwarfed by the urgency of crushing an enemy who keenly relishes civilian slaughters, fanaticism and the Stone Age.
Fein's arguments have no credibility. Last year he argued the government needed unlimited power to strip away the constitutional rights of high school students because of the continuing threat of illegal drugs. Nobody can seriously argue the government's "war on drugs" has not produced a laundry list of documented abuses. The same will hold for the "war on terrorism" if it's allowed to decay into an ongoing conflict without focus or objectives. Indeed, Fein argues "the global terrorism war confronts no clear end point." If that's the case, we should just abandon the Constitution now, since there will never be a time when Fein will feel secure enough to permit his fellow Americans to enjoy their individual rights.

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