In the wake of the Boston bombing many of those who claim a deep and abiding respect for the Constitution show a curious tendency to ignore those parts of the Constitution that tend to interfere with their desire for instantaneous revenge (i.e. 4th, 5th and 6th Amendments). The desire for revenge is understandable. Those desires exist today just as they did 200 or 2000 years ago. However, human passions, being irrational as they are, must be put in check so that human reason may triumph in our collective attempt to mete out justice. Fortunately for us, the founding fathers of this country realized that perhaps there was a more ethical manner to ensure justice than relying on a pitchfork-wielding mob. Thus was born the 4th-6th Amendments.
Ensuring that everyone accused of a crime, no matter how heinous, is afforded their full Constitutional rights does not protect the guilty – it protects the innocent. It protects you. It ensures that if YOU are wrongly accused YOU have the right to demonstrate how your accuser’s evidence is flawed. The greater the heinousness of the crime one is accused of does not increase the likelihood of one’s guilt. If the accused is truly guilty, then evidence of that guilt should not be terribly hard to uncover. A guilty verdict will be assured and the validity of that verdict made public. It is curious how the more sure people are of an accused’s guilt the more annoyed they get with the idea of “wasting time” on a trial. If you are that certain of the guilt then what could possibly be lost by burying the accused in a mountain of evidence at trial? To suggest trials are not needed because no one would ever be accused of a crime without evidence is to accept man as an infallible being.
Although some people have often desired to dispense with trials involving particularly gruesome crimes they had resigned themselves to the fact that the Constitution said they had to follow these rules so they just put up with it. But now the war on “terror” has given these types a novel avenue by which they can circumvent the restraints of the Constitution. It’s the same old ruse all totalitarian governments play: foment fear over an imagined or provoked enemy. In their fear the people will do anything the government tells them if they believe it will ensure their safety. But tangible enemies come and go. The ideal enemy for the state would be one that could never disappear. An incorporeal enemy such as the concept of “terror” is just such an enemy. But people aren’t quite that stupid, they need to see a real human face for their enemy. Simple enough – label anyone you believe to be on the wrong side of this war as an “enemy combatant” and “poof” their rights are gone, because the rules in war are different after all. This is not to suggest such “combatants” have done nothing wrong, rather that all should be allowed to prove as much.
Sadly these circumventions of the Constitution will become permanent, just as this state of war is now permanent – how would one sign a treaty with “terror” after all? These circumventions of the Constitution will take place on US soil because naturally “terror” can exist anywhere in the world. We can bomb our enemies abroad, but here at home, that would be too messy. At home we simply declare an emergency and invoke “temporary” martial law. Boston was sadly our first taste of what that martial law may look like: a band of heavily armed Gestapo barks orders at you at gunpoint to your face to vacate your house and then searches it to their heart’s content, without a warrant, all in the name of “law and order”.
The application of the label “enemy combatant” means one has no right to confront their accusers, to see the evidence against them or to even attempt to provide evidence showing their innocence. Better hope you don’t have a similar name or appearance to an accused “enemy combatant” or were in the wrong place at the wrong time – because you have no right to demonstrate that you aren’t the person they think you are. We should be wary of our clever traps, as we ourselves may become ensnared in them.