Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Gutting the Constitution - On Both Sides of the Border

Earlier today, George Bush signed into law the bill that will allow him to define so-called 'harsh' interrogation techniques (ie. torture) while stripping away the long-standing right to habeas corpus.

The bill also spells out the specific interrogation techniques that are outlawed, while granting retroactive legal protection to military and intelligence personnel who previously participated in rough questioning of terrorism suspects. That provision allows the administration to continue a once-secret CIA program for detaining terrorism suspects and using tough interrogation techniques on those believed to have information about plots against the United States, Bush said.

He then continued with this pompous statement without providing any proof of its veracity:

"This program has been one of the most successful intelligence efforts in American history,"

Yes, he's quite proud of the fact that he endorses torture and immunity from prosecution for those involved in it.

The ACLU released this statement (in part):

WASHINGTON - As President Bush signed S. 3930, the Military Commissions Act of 2006 into law, the American Civil Liberties Union expressed outrage and called the new law one of the worst civil liberties measures ever enacted in American history.

To highlight concerns with the act, the ACLU took out a full page advertisement in today's Washington Post, calling itself "the most conservative organization in America." Since its founding, the ACLU has fought to conserve the system of checks and balances and defend the Bill of Rights.

That's an interesting way to put it but it is the truth since the ACLU is all about conserving rights.

"The president can now - with the approval of Congress - indefinitely hold people without charge, take away protections against horrific abuse, put people on trial based on hearsay evidence, authorize trials that can sentence people to death based on testimony literally beaten out of witnesses, and slam shut the courthouse door for habeas petitions. Nothing could be further from the American values we all hold in our hearts than the Military Commissions Act."

Yet the Republicans and some Democrats were more than happy to vote for this bill - including that so-called bastion of a prisoner's right not to be tortured, John McCain. He, of course, is nothing but a fraud.

This president, who took an oath of office to 'preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States', is doing everything possible to rip it to shreds using fear as his excuse.

Across the border, here in Canada, we're faced with dealing with one of the most gung-ho Justice ministers we've had in a very long time. And this minister, Vic Toews, has no problem with forcing criminals convicted of three offenses to prove they are not dangerous offenders through a process called "reverse onus" - guilty until proven innocent - under his new, desired three strikes law (a concept which other jurisdictions are now moving away from). Toews claims his proposed bill is not unconstitutional but Canada's Charter of Rights and Freedoms protects the presumption of innocence.

It's quite obvious that the state has more than enough resources to fulfill its burden of proof but a defendant who would face reverse onus would most likely be deprived of launching an adequate defence against a charge of being declared a dangerous offender in which the state would not even have to mount a case to prove such.

Many Conservatives in Canada's right-wing blogosphere were quick to attack former Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin when he wanted to apply reverse onus to bail conditions for those accused of gun crimes - one of their pet issues. Let's see how some of them manage to squirm out of that position to support Toew's bill without looking like utter hypocrites.

Consitutions exist for a reason and gutting them for some twisted ideology based on fear runs contrary to their very essence. The only reason for constitutions to be amended or challenged ought to be to allow more rights, not less. This obsession with stripping away the rights of the accused under the patently wrong assumption that doing so will actually protect society sets a dangerous precedent and marks a huge step backwards for justice in what is supposed to be a 'civilized' world.

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