Tuesday, April 20, 2010

It's why we have a Supreme Court

   "Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me — won't get fooled again." — George W. Bush

     So many times they fooled us — so many times that the Bush library in Dallas could have a wing devoted just to deceit.

     Then-Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld once told a questioner "we know where they are" — "they" being the weapons of mass destruction he could never produce once we invaded and overwhelmed Iraq. Now we find out the truth behind another Rumsfeld statement.

     In a 2005 radio interview, he said the detainees at Guantanamo, "all of whom were captured on the battlefield," are "terrorists, trainers, bombmakers, recruiters, financiers . . . would-be suicide bombers."   As it turns out . . .

    Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, has stated under oath that Rumsfeld, Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney knew that the "vast majority" of prisoners held in the "war on terror" were innocent, and that the White House did nothing even when convincing evidence showed as much.

      Wilkerson's sworn statement supports a lawsuit by a Guantanamo detainee who was held for five years without charges after being snatched from his apartment in Pakistan. Among other atrocities at Guantanamo, Adel Hassan Hamad says he was forced to stand for three days without sleep or food until he collapsed.

      Now, you're saying, why kick this dead steed? Leave our W. alone. Let the courts sort out this "fog of war" thing. It's all yesterday's news.

      Ah, but the courts are what make a subject like this not only relevant but absolutely of this day.

      President Obama is about to nominate someone to replace the very definition of a conservative jurist.

      Wait, you say. Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens, though nominated by Gerald Ford, has been with the "liberal wing" of the court for — for forever.

      But there it was in a Time magazine profile, Stevens: a "classic example of conservative common-law judging." Meaning what?

      It means that Stevens has sought always to balance the functions of the executive and legislative branches. That is in contrast to so-called — meaning mislabeled — conservatives on the Supreme Court who have been dedicated to increasing executive power.

       Fortunately, Stevens was on the majority when the Supreme Court ruled that the Bush administration's treatment of detainees violated the Uniform Code of Military Justice and the Geneva Conventions.

       Of course, this ruling launched denunciations of justices "concerned with terrorists' rights." We hear you, Liz Cheney. But as Wilkerson has testified, the administration had no grounds for broad-brushing the guilt of its detainees.

      Just as was the case with the individuals terrorized in Abu Ghraib, many — most? — of those at Guantanamo are or were simply people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

       Now, you tell me: Is it not the function of the law to try to ascertain these facts?

       Or is that the function of the politically juiced executive branch?

       And so we seek a new Supreme Court justice. I am thinking that we want one who, like Stevens, is not afraid to be denounced as "supporting terrorists" when a ruling is aimed at finding truth and administering true justice, rather than responding to the impulses of the harried crowd. That's what a judge does. Isn't it?

       Now, put yourself in Obama's shoes. Suppose you could nominate a jurist who would give you more power, as did Bush's picks. Why not pull that trigger? The legislative branch be damned.

I guess you don't do that because you remember the excesses of the past, of Bush, Cheney and Rumsfeld; of Oliver North and Richard Poindexter; of Nixon, Haldeman, Ehrlichman and Liddy.

         Choose another conservative like Stevens, Mr. President.

         John Young writes for Cox Newspapers. E-mail: jyoungcolumn@gmail.com.

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