Friday, September 29, 2006

Gordon Smith, Defender of Freedom?

It sure was a motherfucking beatdown of liberty yesterday, and I say that profanely with firm intent to elucidate just how profane an offense was committed upon us and our country's legacy. I found myself alternately swayed and then disgusted by the simpering, bumpkinlike Democratic strategy to protect the Constitution, manifest in their belief that they actually could win any amendments they were allowed to present in exchange for the right to filibuster--then covering their political asses when it became clear their belief was pathetic and repetitively foolish. (Obviously the performance of Republicans was uniformly repulsive throughout and afterwards; no need to catalog their indiscretions here.)

Or was it so uniform? In a dance of desperate posturing that mirrors weak-kneed Democrats, Lincoln Chafee voted to preserve habeas corpus in order to improve his chances of keeping his seat in liberal Rhode Island. Also voting for it was Jim Jeffords, former Republican turned turncoat and a guy who probably has never felt freer in his life. To the GOP he's persona non grata; to the Democrats they're just grateful when he votes with them. Easy, easy vote for Jeffords. I say that recognizing that it was a hard calculus for some, and that's the really sad part--that they genuinely found it a difficult decision.

Arlen Specter also voted for it, but he also sponsored it and had to do something to not cut and run completely from any of his earlier tough talk. John Sununu Jr., son of the Ashcroft prototype AG John Sr., isn't in immediate electoral danger but always has his New Hampshire masters to serve. Live Free or Die, heh. Olympia Snowe couldn't make the vote; not sure why. Anyone know?

So that's 51-47. Who's the other Yea vote? Would you believe Gordon Smith? Yes, at least in Oregon, there was only one federal representative who voted for giving detainees the complete human-rights-stripping business--Greg Walden. Are you listening, Carol Voisin? Greg Walden, too extreme for Gordon Smith.

Actually, truth be told Smith's vote to keep habeas is not altogether surprising. In fact, it's more surprising that Ron Wyden voted yes as well. It was just under a year ago that the Senate voted on a defense spending amendment to do essentially what yesterday's bill was designed to undo--the elimination of habeas corpus for detainees. On that day, the same four Republicans--Chafee, Specter, Smith and Sunnunu--voted to protect habeas. It wasn't enough then either, but there were fewer votes to protect it, mostly because of absences but also due to one unexpected Yea vote: Ron Wyden's.

Wyden made all the right votes today, and I didn't think there would be any question about that. I also didn't think there'd be any question where Smith would side, based on his pattern of giving it up to the GOP leadership for these show bills that are designed almost entirely for political purpose. But he surprised me, and worse yet it shouldn't have been a surprise based on his history in the matter. Thank you for doing your part to protect our deepest traditions Senator Smith, and I mean that. This balances out an awful lot of shit I've busted you for in the past, I have to say.

Why? This was a big, big vote for me. Yes, Smith voted for the rest of the awful program of literal and metaphorical abuse, and there are a whole lot of really distateful things in it that got passed, but habeas is a special case. Torture, while something we have emphatically been disavowing for 60 years or so, is something we've still conducted at one level or another around the world fairly consistently since then. On the QT, and publicly disavowed, but done. That the White House would advocate for the right to avow it is mind-boggling enough--I couldn't have predicted the day when it would succeed in the effort. Nonetheless, in the grand scheme of time the disavowal of torture is a fairly recent enlightenment. So too are international courts and special military tribunals, so while I might still be outraged, they feel like steps back into a past I might recognize.

But let's just say I don't have much recall of the year 1215:
(38) In future no official shall place a man on trial upon his own unsupported statement, without producing credible witnesses to the truth of it.

+ (39) No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.

+ (40) To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.
That's what our highest legislative body spit on yesterday--almost 800 years of jurisprudence based on the heretofore obvious principle that you can't just arbitrarily lock people up indefinitely. To Greg Walden, shame on you. You ought to just come on home right now and disappear, my fellow Oregonian. You embarrass and frighten people of conscience. To the rest of the delegation, thank you, especially to Senator Smith. Tomorrow the job of restoring order to the fundamental Western rule of law begins. And we know who our friends are now.