Funny, They Didn't Ask Us

10/02/2006 12:35 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

When the Senate and House were nearing their vote on the so-called compromise bill pertaining to trying suspected terrorist in court, the provisions remained harsh. In effect nothing changed. The Geneva conventions on the treatment of prisoners were reinstated, but with a huge loophole: the President can determine when and if they apply. Torture was supposedly outlawed, yet another huge loophole was written in: the CIA is exempted from torture rules that apply to the Army. And the most serious abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo, the suspension of habeas corpus, remained untouched. A completely innocent man can still be held indefinitely without criminal charges, and he has no right to face a judge to proclaim his innocence.

In other words, the compromise was minimal. Right-wingers got everything they wanted. The reason this was allowed to occur is that Congress no longer listens to any dissent except from Republicans. Democratic congressman stood up to complain that they weren't even consulted on the War Crimes Act, but that's become business as usual. In the House, only Republicans matter, even at the discussion stage. Which in essence disenfranchises any citizen who voted for the 'wrong' party. The situation is slightly better in the Senate, where the Democratic leadership is permitted to bring amendments to the floor at the whim of the Republican leadership. These amendments are basically for public show; they hardly ever pass.

Here is an example where politics as usual, in the era of right-wing domination, has become immoral. To ignore over 40% of the electorate by ignoring their representatives flouts the spirit of the Constitution and the very basis of democracy, which involves the protection of minority rights even as the majority gets its will. Under the current standards, blacks and Latinos, both grossly under-represented in Congress, have no say at all in government. Thus the massive rallies on behalf of immigrants that took place in every major American city last spring might as well not have happened. A cadre of reactionary conservatives--who themselves were elected by a small, tightly organize minority--holds total sway. If the Bible doesn't like it, a bill has no chance of passing.

The prevailing situation is a disgrace. Ordinary citizens may be frightened of terrorism, but we expect our representatives to have wiser heads. The fact that no meaningful debate was held on habeas corpus, for example, is intolerable in a constitutional society. It doesn't mater if the man in the street hates and fears Muslims. Fourteen thousand detainees can't all be guilty, and yet they are imprisoned as if they were. This is the same as running a dragnet through a protest rally and charging that every person in the vicinity disturbed the peace. In fact, the Nixon administration did exactly that during the anti-war era. Apparently the same tactics, and much worse, have returned to plague us. Now, as before, nobody in power bothered to ask us if attacking the Constitution was what we wanted.