Wong Soak Koon is troubled by events in the United States, where many seem to be willing to condone a shameless disregard for due process. There has been a terrible down-slide in the American government's sense of justice.
An article in The Star (20 August 2006 ) caught my attention because it echoed my feelings about American “democracy” today. Sokol, an American lawyer who practised constitutional litigation in the US federal courts, has captured the terrible downslide in the American government’s sense of justice. He writes: “Government lawyers are proposing that US citizens can be detained and then tried in secret trials – in absentia, in some cases – using secret evidence that the accused cannot see. If the evidence is obtained by coercion, government lawyers contend that it should still be allowed as a basis for conviction, thus rejecting almost 300 years of Anglo-American jurisprudence.” That such a total disregard for due process can even be considered boggles the mind and reminds us how true it is that human beings rarely learn from history.
Sokol quotes Chief Justice Earl Warren who once wrote that the American people must insist that the government be put “to the task of proving guilt by means other than inquisition” because American history itself has shown many occasions of abuse. And yet it appears that the inquisition mode is now in vogue. Human beings are apt to suffer from selective historical amnesia when leaders fan up anxieties about “national security.”
Some years ago when Bush Senior was in the White House and the Gulf War was raging, I had written a letter to the Aliran Monthly as well as to local newspapers expressing my sense that any contravening of laws abroad will inevitable boomerang back on American society causing a downslide in civil liberties and a surreptitious erosion of the cornerstone of justice which the Founding Fathers laid down. I believe that Ronald Sokol’s article shows I may be right.
It seems to me that a sense of paranoia, a sense of being besieged only plays into the agenda of politicians and certain other forces in society. Should the American people allow a post 9-11 anxiety and fear to override their concern with the erosion of “the fundamental rules of a civilized society”? The test ahead for fair-minded women and men in the US today is how willing they are to express their unease with the insidious undermining of the democratic foundation of their society. What are the limits to Executive power under the American Constitution and how and when have they been violated? More is at stake than the misdeeds of one administration. At the heart of the matter is the sanctity of a centuries-old tradition of jurisprudence.
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As Sokol rightly and honestly points out, it isn’t as if American history did not show instances of abuse eg. in the case of Native Americans, in lynchings and other instances of racial violence. But American history has also shown many examples of individuals who stood up for justice and liberty at considerable personal cost. What is most troubling at this point in time is the impression that there may be willingness to condone the most shameless and flagrant disregard of due process. The coinage of new-fangled terminology such as”unlawful combatants” often aids in obfuscating issues. One
remembers that in the Gulf War certain terms were also coined to euphemize and make palatable escalating civilian deaths.
But all is not lost. The American government is certainly NOT the American people. I am confident that there are many thinking and self-reflexive Americans who are already assessing the situation and reflecting on how they will cast their next vote. Even before ballot boxes appear many will already seek lawful and democratic means to voice their sincere concern.
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