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Civil Liberties for Terrorists But Not for American Troops By: Jacob Laksin
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, June 21, 2006

In recent years the ranks of alleged victims championed by civil libertarians on the political Left have swollen to include everyone from the terrorist detainees at Guantanamo Bay, to anti-American radicals, to environmentalist ultras and illegal immigrants. But there’s at least one group ineligible for victim status under the legal Left’s guidelines: American troops. 

This seems to be the lesson of the “Camp Pendleton Eight.” A group of seven Marines and one Navy corpsman, they are currently being held--reportedly under excessively harsh conditions--at the Camp Pendleton Marine Corps base in southern California on suspicion of kidnapping and killing an innocent Iraqi man in the town of Hamdania, west of Baghdad, on April 26. Charges have not yet been filed, but investigators in the case have reportedly used a variety of coercive methods--including threatening the soldiers with the death penalty, interrogating them for upward of eight hours without water or toilet breaks, and keeping them shackled at the hands, waist and ankles--that, one might assume, would stir furor among those groups, such as the ACLU and the Center for Constitutional Rights and the National Lawyers Guild, who relentlessly profess themselves guardians of American civil liberties and constitutional standards. Instead, as inquiries to these organizations by FrontPageMag.com revealed, these groups have responded to the soldiers' plight with collective indifference.

As far as the ACLU seems to be concerned, the case does not exist. This is not because the ACLU is reluctant to take a stand on the war on terror. In the past few years, the organization has taken several stands. When not cheerleading for illegal immigration under the guise of promoting “civil liberties,” the ACLU has sided with convicted Palestinian Islamic Jihad leader Sami al-Arian. In court briefs, the ACLU even attempted to undermine the government’s case against al-Arian by declaring inadmissible evidence collected in an FBI investigation, on the dubious grounds that the search warrants used by investigators were too broad. Taking a different tack, Howard Simon, the executive director of the Florida ACLU, cited unconfirmed allegations that al-Arian was allowed to change his underwear only once a week and his prison jumpsuit every two weeks and portrayed al-Arian as the victim of “the disgusting raw exercise of power by John Ashcroft.” (Prison officials dismissed the claims.)

No such sympathy seems forthcoming for the troops. Neither Simon nor his ACLU colleagues have had anything to say about the fact that U.S. soldiers, who, as noted, have not yet been charged with a crime, are kept in shackles and were, until recently, held under maximum pretrial confinement. Apathy to prison conditions cannot explain the ACLU’s silence. This May, the organization filed a class action lawsuit on behalf of women prisoners in Wisconsin, charging that the state’s prison system provides “far inferior mental health treatment” to women as opposed to men. To date, however, the ACLU has issued not a single statement on the far more prominent case of the Camp Pendleton Eight.

The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), the ACLU’s ideological confederate, has likewise recused itself from the controversy surrounding the troops. Yet the CCR is hardly averse to staking out controversial positions. At its 2004 annual convention, the CCR paid tribute to radical New York attorney Lynne Stewart, a declared supporter of terrorism who has been convicted of abetting the terrorist activities of her client, Egyptian “blind sheik” Omar Abdel Rahman. Stewart helped Rahman pass along secret messages to his followers calling for terrorist attacks, a fact that did not deter the CCR for audaciously depicting her initial indictment as “an attack on attorneys who defend controversial figures, and an attempt to deprive these clients of the zealous representation that may be required.” For the troops who served their country, however, the CCR has not spared a thought.

It is a telling omission. Consider that the CCR goes to great lengths to portray the suspected terrorist detainees at Guantánamo Bay as the hapless victims of a ruthless U.S. government. In April of 2005, the CCR launched its Guantanamo Global Justice Initiative, a legal advocacy project dedicated to promoting the cause of the detainees. In keeping with this spirit, CCR attorney Joshua Denbeaux claimed last week that these detainees, far from enemy combatants, are a pressing “civil rights issue.” And his employer seldom misses an opportunity to condemn what it calls “the Bush Administration's policy of indefinite detention.”

In bemoaning this alleged policy, however, the CCR maintains a double standard. Thus the fact that the Camp Pendleton Eight were taken into custody on May 12, and have been jailed in the absence of formal charges, has elicited not a shred of concern from the organization that boasts of its commitment to “protecting and advancing the rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” Evidently, in the CCR’s perverse moral calculus, terrorists come before American troops.

Additional examples of the legal Left’s selective conscience abound. For instance, the National Lawyers Guild (NLG) proudly notes that it works “to safeguard and strengthen the rights of workers, women, farmers and minority groups, upon whom the welfare of the entire nation depends.” Conspicuously excluded from NLG’s list of worthy causes are those who wear the uniform and put their life on the line to defend that welfare.

By contrast, would-be terrorists can count on the NLG’s support. On June 12, the NLG denounced an FBI crackdown on eco-terrorist groups like the Earth Liberation Front and animal-rights extremists like the Animal Liberation Front, complaining that prosecuting such groups for the use of “destructive devices”--explosives and high-caliber weapons in non-legalese--evidenced a “disturbing trend of targeting protesters engaged in dissent, and in imposing draconian sentences for expressing such dissent.” The NLG especially objected to the use of the word terrorism to describe these groups’ activities “because it obfuscates issues about the evidence and the ability to fairly evaluate the merits of the case.” But while radical terrorists command the NLG’s sympathies, the imprisoned U.S. troops have not even captured its attention. The NLG has ignored their case altogether. 

None of this is inexplicable. As even a cursory review of their record shows, the leading organizations on the legal Left have focused much of their efforts since the beginning of the war on terror anathematizing the military. To listen to the ACLU, one would think that American troops are the world’s leading human rights abusers. Repeatedly alleging “torture and abuse of detainees in U.S. military custody,” the ACLU has simultaneously clamored for an investigation of “senior military” leaders to determine whether they are guilty of “authorizing, acquiescing or consenting, in any way, to acts of torture committed by their subordinates.” That the ACLU has already reached a judgment on the matter is confirmed by its own website, which demands that these  leaders be “held accountable” for their supposed crimes.

Equally outspoken on the subject of the military’s alleged misdeeds is CCR president Michael Ratner. Among other examples of fact-free demagoguery, Ratner has charged that the U.S. military presides over “incredibly inhuman conditions” at Guantanamo. For Ratner, the preferred image of the armed forces is that of  “crew-cut marines, standing over a row of kneeling, shackled goggled men in the Cuban sun” -- an image that, he insists, “became the iconic image of all that the U.S. was doing wrong to the Muslim world.” [1]

Not to be outdone, the NLG has established a special Military Law Task Force, a curiously dissociative name for a project that essentially opposes all things military. Beyond railing against what it calls the “military/industrial clique,” and “unnecessary militaristic involvement” (which, in the NLG’s definition, amounts to all militaristic involvement), the NLG also holds that the very idea of a military force -- even on a volunteer basis -- is a violation of civil liberties: “To maintain the availability of such a force, men and women in uniform are routinely deprived of civil liberties and subjected to bigotry, abuse and harassment,” according to the NLG.

If recent news reports are accurate, the NLG’s statement may actually have some relevance to the case of the Camp Pendleton Eight. For it to be taken seriously, however, requires that the NLG and likeminded groups reconsider their near-reflexive hostility to the U.S. military -- something that, if past history is any guide, they are constitutionally incapable of doing.

And so it has proved. One week ago, some two dozen people gathered outside Camp Pendleton to protest the confinement conditions of the troops. But self-styled civil-liberties groups were nowhere to be found.


[1] Ratner, Michael, and Ray, Ellen. Guantanamo: What the World Should Know. (Chelsea Green Publishing, 2004) p. 36.

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Jacob Laksin is managing editor of Front Page Magazine. His email is jlaksin -at- gmail.com

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