American Prison Camps Are on the Way
Kellogg Brown & Root, a Halliburton subsidiary, is constructing
a huge facility at an undisclosed location to hold tens of
thousands of Bush's "unlawful enemy combatants." Americans are
certain to be among them.
By Marjorie Cohn
10/13/06 "AlterNet" -- -- The Military Commissions Act of 2006
governing the treatment of detainees is the culmination of
relentless fear-mongering by the Bush administration since the
September 11 terrorist attacks.
Because the bill was adopted with lightning speed, barely anyone
noticed that it empowers Bush to declare not just aliens, but
also U.S. citizens, "unlawful enemy combatants."
Bush & Co. has portrayed the bill as a tough way to deal with
aliens to protect us against terrorism. Frightened they might
lose their majority in Congress in the November elections, the
Republicans rammed the bill through Congress with little
Anyone who donates money to a charity that turns up on Bush's
list of "terrorist" organizations, or who speaks out against the
government's policies could be declared an "unlawful enemy
combatant" and imprisoned indefinitely. That includes American
The bill also strips habeas corpus rights from detained aliens
who have been declared enemy combatants. Congress has the
constitutional power to suspend habeas corpus only in times of
rebellion or invasion. The habeas-stripping provision in the new
bill is unconstitutional and the Supreme Court will likely say
so when the issue comes before it.
Although more insidious, this law follows in the footsteps of
other unnecessarily repressive legislation. In times of war and
national crisis, the government has targeted immigrants and
In 1798, the Federalist-led Congress, capitalizing on the fear
of war, passed the four Alien and Sedition Acts to stifle
dissent against the Federalist Party's political agenda. The
Naturalization Act extended the time necessary for immigrants to
reside in the U.S. because most immigrants sympathized with the
The Alien Enemies Act provided for the arrest, detention and
deportation of male citizens of any foreign nation at war with
the United States. Many of the 25,000 French citizens living in
the U.S. could have been expelled had France and America gone to
war, but this law was never used. The Alien Friends Act
authorized the deportation of any non-citizen suspected of
endangering the security of the U.S. government; the law lasted
only two years and no one was deported under it.
The Sedition Act provided criminal penalties for any person who
wrote, printed, published, or spoke anything "false, scandalous
and malicious" with the intent to hold the government in
"contempt or disrepute." The Federalists argued it was necessary
to suppress criticism of the government in time of war. The
Republicans objected that the Sedition Act violated the First
Amendment, which had become part of the Constitution seven years
earlier. Employed exclusively against Republicans, the Sedition
Act was used to target congressmen and newspaper editors who
criticized President John Adams.
Subsequent examples of laws passed and actions taken as a result
of fear-mongering during periods of xenophobia are the Espionage
Act of 1917, the Sedition Act of 1918, the Red Scare following
World War I, the forcible internment of people of Japanese
descent during World War II, and the Alien Registration Act of
1940 (the Smith Act).
During the McCarthy period of the 1950s, in an effort to
eradicate the perceived threat of communism, the government
engaged in widespread illegal surveillance to threaten and
silence anyone who had an unorthodox political viewpoint. Many
people were jailed, blacklisted and lost their jobs. Thousands
of lives were shattered as the FBI engaged in "red-baiting." One
month after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, United
States Attorney General John Ashcroft rushed the U.S.A. Patriot
Act through a timid Congress. The Patriot Act created a crime of
domestic terrorism aimed at political activists who protest
government policies, and set forth an ideological test for entry
into the United States.
In 1944, the Supreme Court upheld the legality of the internment
of Japanese and Japanese-American citizens in Korematsu v.
United States. Justice Robert Jackson warned in his dissent that
the ruling would "lie about like a loaded weapon ready for the
hand of any authority that can bring forward a plausible claim
of an urgent need."
That day has come with the Military Commissions Act of 2006. It
provides the basis for the President to round-up both aliens and
U.S. citizens he determines have given material support to
terrorists. Kellogg Brown & Root, a subsidiary of Cheney's
Halliburton, is constructing a huge facility at an undisclosed
location to hold tens of thousands of undesirables.
In his 1928 dissent in Olmstead v. United States, Justice Louis
Brandeis cautioned, "The greatest dangers to liberty lurk in
insidious encroachment by men of zeal, well meaning but without
understanding." Seventy-three years later, former White House
spokesman Ari Fleischer, speaking for a zealous President,
warned Americans "they need to watch what they say, watch what
We can expect Bush to continue to exploit 9/11 to strip us of
more of our liberties. Our constitutional right to dissent is in
serious jeopardy. Benjamin Franklin's prescient warning should
give us pause: "They who would give up an essential liberty for
temporary security, deserve neither liberty or security."
Marjorie Cohn, a professor at Thomas Jefferson School of Law,
is president-elect of the National Lawyers Guild, and the U.S.
representative to the executive committee of the American
Association of Jurists. Her new book, "Cowboy Republic: Six Ways
the Bush Gang Has Defied the Law," will be published in 2007 by
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