How We Can Take the Constitution Back From the Brink
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At no time in our country's history has the abuse of power by the executive branch been more flagrant and more dangerous to democracy.
In just the past month, the Bush administration has ordered employees to ignore congressional subpoenas, asserted broad new parameters for executive privilege and issued an executive order that could permit seizing assets of Americans deemed at its discretion to be hurting the war effort in Iraq. Meanwhile, the administration continues to spy on its own citizens, including widespread data mining of telephone records and emails.
Since taking office, Bush has pushed his authority past the bounds of the Constitution, and now a new group is ready to push back.
The American Freedom Campaign has stepped up to the plate and is working to build bipartisan grassroots support "to reverse the abuse of executive power and restore our system of checks and balances."
The group was spearheaded by Wes Boyd, the founder of MoveOn.org; David Fenton, the executive director of Fenton Communications; William Haseltine, a scientist and social entrepreneur; and Naomi Wolf, author of The End of America: A Letter of Warning to a Young Patriot.
"The Bush administration's 'war on terror' is not making Americans safer. It's making Americans less safe," said Carroll Bogert, associate director of Human Rights Watch. "What's more, these policies are a gift to dictators everywhere. They significantly undermine America's moral credibility, which should be the cornerstone of any effort to combat terrorism."
The American Freedom Campaign is designed to be an online hub for Americans concerned about the country's democratic system and who are ready to act to protect the Constitution.
The campaign is asking all Americans to take the American Freedom Pledge to "fight to protect and defend the Constitution." The pledge begins, "We are Americans, and in our America we do not torture, we do not imprison people without charge or legal remedy, we do not tap people's phones and emails without a court order, and above all we do not give any president unchecked power."
The campaign is also asking all presidential candidates to take the pledge as well. "This campaign responds to the unconstitutional behavior of the current administration," said Wolf. "Therefore, our first order of business is to get commitments from those running to be the next occupant of the White House. The American people need to know that executive power will not be similarly abused in the future."
Past administrations have led America through much scarier times without taking away personal freedoms, Boyd said. "This is not about a trade-off," he added. "It's about principle. All political parties know they have nothing to gain by having a monarchist president."
The campaign expects to build a grassroots base of hundreds of thousands of Americans who will make their voices heard when issues of excessive executive power arise.
"If there was ever a time for a true grassroots movement in America, it is now," said Boyd. "With our leaders in Washington failing in their constitutional roles, the people need to band together to defend the democracy established on their behalf over 200 years ago. Through the online component of this campaign, hundreds of thousands of Americans will fight to protect our freedoms and our liberties."
Steve Fox, a spokesman for the campaign echoed why he thought their work was so important and the involvement of the public so necessary at this time. "This is not just about civil liberties in general but really specifically focuses on restoring the system of checks and balances," he said. "We were losing the system that made America great."
The American Freedom Campaign endeavors to preserve the vision of the nation's founders -- that no president shall be above the law. In doing so, AFC seeks to protect Americans' constitutionally guaranteed liberties and ensure that this nation demonstrates respect for human rights.
"For the last six years, we have been taking the Bush administration to court to hold them accountable for the many ways they have broken the law," said Vincent Warren, executive director of the Center for Constitutional Rights.
"In case after case, they have tried to hide behind 'state secrets,' create loopholes to make themselves immune from prosecution, and treat the prohibitions on torture and coercive interrogation the way a particularly creative tax lawyer might treat the tax code. The American Freedom Pledge is an opportunity for everyone to stand up and say we have had enough of an executive branch that thinks it is above the law."
To put America back in the hands of the people, the AFC has outlined 10 clear goals:
- Fully restore the right to challenge the legality of one's detention, or habeas corpus, and the right of detained suspects to be charged and brought to trial.
- Prohibit torture and all cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment.
- Prohibit the use of secret evidence.
- Prohibit the detention of anyone, including U.S. citizens, as an "enemy combatant" outside the battlefield, and on the president's say-so alone.
- Prohibit the government from secretly breaking and entering our homes, tapping our phones or email, or seizing our computers without a court order, on the president's say-so alone.
- Prohibit the president from "disappearing" anyone and holding them in secret detention.
- Prohibit the executive from claiming "state secrets" to deny justice to victims of government misdeeds, and from claiming "executive privilege" to obstruct congressional oversight and an open government.
- Prohibit the abuse of signing statements, where the president seeks to disregard duly enacted provision of bills.
- Use the federal courts, or courts-martial, to charge and prosecute terrorism suspects, and close Guantanamo down.
- Reaffirm that the Espionage Act does not prohibit journalists from reporting on classified national security matters without fear of prosecution.
Tara Lohan is a managing editor at AlterNet.