Share This Page

A shameful retreat from American values

I would not send my college kid off for a semester abroad if I were you. We have suspended human rights in America and what goes around comes around. Ixnay habeas corpus.

The U.S. Senate, in all its splendor and majesty, has decided that an "enemy combatant" is any noncitizen whom the president says is an enemy combatant, including your Korean greengrocer or your Swedish grandmother or your Czech au pair , and can be arrested and held for as long as authorities wish without any right of appeal to a court of law to examine the matter.

If your college kid were to be arrested in Bangkok or Cairo, suspected of "crimes against the state," and held in prison, you'd assume that an American foreign service officer would be able to speak to your kid and arrange for a lawyer. But this may not be true anymore. Be forewarned.

The Senate also decided it's up to the president to decide whether it's OK to make these enemies stand naked in cold rooms for a couple days in blinding light and be beaten by interrogators. This is now purely a bureaucratic matter:

The plenipotentiary stamps the file "enemy combatants" and throws the poor schnooks into prison and at his leisure he tries them by any sort of kangaroo court he wishes to assemble and they have no right to see the evidence against them; there is no appeal. In due course, it will be thrown out by the courts.

It's good that Barry Goldwater is dead because this would have killed him. Go back to the Senate of 1964 -- Goldwater, Dirksen, Russell, McCarthy, Javits, Morse, Fulbright -- and you won't find more than 10 votes for it.

None of the men and women who voted for this bill has any right to speak in public about the rule of law anymore, or to take a high moral view of the Third Reich, or to wax poetic about the American Idea. Mark their names. Any institution of higher learning that grants honorary degrees to these people forfeits its honor.

Alexander, Allard, Allen, Bennett, Bond, Brownback, Bunning, Burns, Burr, Carper, Chambliss, Coburn, Cochran, Coleman, Collins, Cornyn, Craig, Crapo, DeMint, DeWine, Dole, Domenici, Ensign, Enzi, Frist, Graham, Grassley, Gregg, Hagel, Hatch, Hutchison, Inhofe, Isakson, Johnson, Kyl, Landrieu, Lautenberg, Lieberman, Lott, Lugar, Martinez, McCain, McConnell, Menendez, Murkowski, Nelson of Florida, Nelson of Nebraska, Pryor, Roberts, Rockefeller, Salazar, Santorum, Sessions, Shelby, Smith, Specter, Stabenow, Stevens, Sununu, Talent, Thomas, Thune, Vitter, Voinovich, Warner.

To paraphrase Sir Walter Scott: Mark their names and mark them well. For them, no minstrel raptures swell. High though their titles, proud their name, boundless their wealth as wish can claim, these wretched figures shall go down to the vile dust from whence they sprung, unwept, unhonored and unsung.

Three Republican senators made a show of opposing the bill and after they'd collected all the praise they could get, they quickly folded. Why be a hero when you can be fairly sure that the courts will dispose of this piece of garbage.

If, however, the courts do not, then our country has taken a step toward totalitarianism. If the government can round up someone and never be required to explain why, then it's no longer the United States of America as you and I always understood it. Our enemies have succeeded beyond their wildest dreams. They have made us become like them.

I got some insight last month into who supports torture when I went down to Dallas to speak at Highland Park Methodist Church. It was spooky. I walked in, was met by two burly security men with walkie-talkies, and within 10 minutes was told by three people that this was the Bushes' church and that it would be better if I didn't talk about politics.

I was there on a book tour for "Homegrown Democrat" but they thought it better if I didn't mention it. So I tried to make light of it: I told the audience, "I don't need to talk politics. I have no need even to be interested in politics -- I'm a citizen, I have plenty of money and my grandsons are at least 12 years away from being eligible for military service." And the audience applauded! Those were their sentiments exactly. We've got ours and who cares?

The Methodists of Dallas can be fairly sure that none of them will be snatched off the streets, flown to Guantanamo, stripped naked, forced to stand for 48 hours in a freezing room with deafening noise, so why should they worry?

It's only the Jews who are in danger and the homosexuals and gypsies. The Christians are doing just fine. If you can't trust a Methodist with absolute power to arrest people and not have to say why, then whom can you trust?

Garrison Keillor is an author and host of "A Prairie Home Companion," heard Saturday night on public radio stations across the country.

TribLIVE commenting policy

You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.

We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.

While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.

We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers

We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.

We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.

We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.

We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.