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The Future of Freedom: Illiberal Democracy at Home and Abroad by Fareed Zakaria
Polyarchy by Robert Dahl
The Nazi Seizure of Power by William Sheridan Allen
Terror and Liberalism by Paul Berman
The Moon Is Down by John Steinbeck
Dictatorial Democracy? What?
Today President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan instituted new powers for himself that leave no doubt that he is a power-hungry dictator (is there any other kind?). As reported in the New York Times, the new amendments allow Musharraf to mess with the Pakistani Constitution without outside approval, give him the ability to eliminate the Parliament on a whim, and leave him the right to do what he will with the military leadership and the nation's courts.
As I read this portion I honestly thought satirical comedians had taken over the New York Times:
"This is part of the Constitution," the general declared at one pont, waving his hand in the air. "I am hereby making it part of the Constitution."
I mean, isn't that something you see in The Onion?
To make matters worse, Musharraf tried to insist that these dictatorial amendments were intended to promote greater democracy in Pakistan. Either he doesn't know what democracy is, which is all too likely, or he doesn't know what a dictator is. Perhaps the U.S. should remind Musharraf that if he intends to retain power in Pakistan with the all ready uneasy support of the U.S., he shouldn't make a mockery of democracy. It is an insult to the bedrock of American ideals and an affront to the intelligence of the Pakistani people.
The situation in Zimbabwe is out of hand. Under the leadership of Robert Mugabe, Zimbabwe has fallen into chaos as its leader has attempted to equalize socioeconomic inequalities in an all encompassing land grab. As its post-colonial legacy, Zimbabwe's farm lands were virtually monopolized by white farmers. Instead of organizing a civil and fair redistribution of that fertile farm land to the nation's majority blacks who are largely landless, Mugabe in effect allowed for a farming revolution as his henchmen looked the other way as thousands of blacks over ran white owned farms.
Now, certainly a redistribution of the nation's most fertile land was good politics, as well as morally called for so that the racial minority would not control the economy of the entire country, but for Mugabe's methods are terrible for his country and for the entire region. An editorial in today's Washington Post sums up Mugabe's leadership in this way:
"[H]e stands as a representative of all that is wrong with postcolonial African leadership: a self-centered, power-hungry dictator who has lost the support of his people, yet clings to the trappings of office through the help of the mob, the gun and a demagogic political appeal to the worst kind of human emotions."
This type of domestic diplomacy is not the handiwork of an intelligent leader. Mugabe's confiscation of white owned farms is nothing more than racism. As Darmon Thornton laments on his blog, it is a shame that none of America's black leaders have taken a stand and denounced Mugabe's practices as nothing more than pure racism.
Land redistribution can be done effectively and fairly for all of the nation's citizens, but a policy of blatant racial revenge is not the way to equate Zimbabwean society.
The term “enemy combatant” is one of the vaguest terms I have ever heard to circumvent the law. It is a term created by the Bush administration to effectively mean nothing. By creating this new terminology to describe a captured enemy, the administration has been able to avoid the already defined terms of “prisoner of war,” or simply “criminal.” The administration has made up this new and baseless term so that its lack of precedent will allow the latitude to define the idiom in any way that is deemed useful.
By denying the status of “prisoner of war” the administration has avoided the protections that that term provides under various longstanding international laws. Similarly, by denying these “enemy combatants” the status of “criminal,” the administration can avoid the legal system of its own nation. Granted, I would have to say that these so-called “enemy combatants” are certainly closer to being “prisoners of war” than being your basic “criminals,” but the creation of a new title for “prisoner of war” simply for the autonomy that it provides should not be allowed right under our collective American nose.
In his hapless attempt to provide logic to the term “enemy combatant,” Charles Krathammer, in today’s Chicago Tribune, asks, “What do you call an armed enemy in a combat zone if not “enemy combatant”?” Absolutely correct, except once that “armed enemy in a combat zone” is captured and held against his will by the opposing side, he should become a “Prisoner of War” and should be entitled to all of the legal protections that such a term provides. There is no way that an “enemy combatant” can still be judged to be a “combatant” when he is in an orange jumpsuit, with blinders on his eyes, mufflers on his ears, and forced to kneel in small fenced cells. This person certainly remains a member of the “enemy,” but is by no means a “combatant.”
The examples that have been debated the most are Jose Padilla and Yasser Esam Hamdi. The first, Jose Padilla, by no imagination of the definition of the phrase should be held as an “enemy combatant.” He was arrested as he deboarded a flight at O’Hare International Airport and was loudly proclaimed to be the brains behind a supposed “dirty bomb” plot. In recent days Padilla has quietly been downgraded to nothing more than a low level grunt in the plot, but nevertheless he remains in military brigs with the ominous title of “enemy combatant.”
Padilla should be a “criminal suspect” at best, and that other inauspicious title, a “person of interest” at worst. He is certainly an American citizen, for he grew up as a part of a Chicago street gang. His circumstances are even less questionable than John Walker Lindh, for Padilla was not captured with rifle in hand, in the anarchical aftermath of the Taliban, but was instead arrested by federal marshals in a public American airport terminal. His case should no doubt be one of a criminal nature.
The second case, Yasser Esam Hamdi, is slightly more complicated, but he is nevertheless entitled to all of the rights enjoyed by American citizens. As a natural born citizen, he should be entitled to due process, to see the evidence against him, and the right to an attorney. The Sixth Amendment does not distinguish between those citizens who have lived in rural Kansas their whole life and those who were born in Louisiana but grew up in Saudi Arabia. Both are entitled to the full protections of the Constitution.
Throughout all of these battles for Constitutional protections, the Justice Department has argued that not only should these men be denied their birthrights, but furthermore that the federal courts have no jurisdiction to tell the executive branch what it may or may not do. Whoa! The executive branch is arguing that the judicial branch has no check on it? This is a troublesome and very dangerous ascertation for the administration to make, for it throws Section II and III of the Constitution into chaos.
“Enemy Combatant” is one of the worst expressions ever invented by the federal government. It provides an arguably legitimate way for the government to hold prisoners of war without allowing them the protections that actual “prisoners of war” are entitled. Simple semantics should not become an end around to avoid the law. Without the law, we all might as well surrender now.