Monday, February 05, 2007

Rethinking the Afghanistan War

It's an almost common article of faith among liberals that while we opposed the invasion of Iraq we humbly submit that the American invasion of Afghanistan was justified. The Taliban was harboring Al Qaeda. Al Qaeda attacked us on 911. So we're not against all wars, we're really not soft, we don't just automatically reject the extension of American military power and the use of force, and so on.

But was the invasion of Afghanistan a risk free choice, an option without more troubling and widespread implications?

I'm beginning to think not. Or at least not in the manner it was executed and especially in the form of authorization it gave the administration.

Consider the administration's rationale in the on-going treatment of detainees. In particular, consider the case of Ali al-Marri, who was in the news last week.

A Bush administration lawyer urged the panel to dismiss al-Marri's appeal, arguing that under the Military Commissions Act, the courts have no jurisdiction to hear cases of detained aliens who are declared enemy combatants.

David B. Salmons, assistant to the solicitor general, also argued that the government properly classified al-Marri as an enemy combatant, citing what the government said is evidence that he trained at an al-Qaida camp and met with Osama bin Laden and suspected Sept. 11 mastermind Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

Judge Diana G. Motz asked Salmons what would stop the president from declaring anyone an enemy combatant, including those who are citizens of nations not at war with the U.S., including al-Marri.

"What I don't understand is how you make one an enemy combatant," she said. "What did the president look to, to call someone an enemy combatant?"

Salmons said that Congress and the Supreme Court have given the president the authority to fight terrorism and prevent additional attacks on the nation, including declaring those with suspected al-Qaida links as enemy combatants. Furthermore, Salmons argued, al-Marri is "clearly an al-Qaida operative and qualifies as an enemy combatant."

"If the U.S. can do this, it's contrary to the Constitution," Motz said. "It would give other nations the ability to do that by declaring a U.S. citizen an enemy combatant."

Salmons responded: "It's different; we're responding to the attacks of September 11." He added that the government doesn't make such declarations lightly and that al-Marri will receive a combatant status review tribunal in the District of Columbia federal court.

So, the assistant to the U.S. Solicitor General, who's arguing the federal government's case with regards to al-Marri, says "Congress" gave the president "the authority to fight terrorism...". And when might that authority have been given? Certainly long before the vote to authorize force against Iraq. In other words, according to the administration, "Congress" ceded this authority to the president in the initial package of legislative responses to 911. And included in this legislative package and central to the treatment of "detainees" was the invasion of Afghanistan.

I recognize I'm not the first liberal or concerned citizen to express concern about this. But in the weeks and months after 911, Congress ceded to the president not just the authority to invade another country, but also the authority to conduct a global war on terrorism with extra-Constitutional implications at home as well as abroad. Obviously, the many Democrats who supported the invasion of Afghanistan and the overthrow of the Taliban probably didn't believe they were also granting such unique, troubling, and wide-ranging authority to the president in regards to the imprisonment of those who would soon be called "enemy combatants". Nonetheless, in the rush to allow the invasion of Afghanistan to proceed with their blessing (and no doubt faced with the demand for action by voters), much else was also "allowed".

And we are still in the midst of trying to ascertain, much less evaluate and undo, the damaging implications for civil liberties and Constitutional protections that resulted from the seemingly "no-brainer" dimensions of the vote to authorize the war in Afghanistan the broader global war on terrorism.

1 comment:

david said...

there is a growing grass-roots effort to restore habeas corpus. join us at:

and read about the latest developments regarding habeas corpus suspension and its effect on U.S. citizens at our blog: