(Forgive the obviously romanticized language…I had just read Jefferson and just went with it. Also, I haven’t heard much from YAL members on this trial, so I’m interested to hear people’s opinions.)
Due to the recurring debate over the form and location of the trial of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed which presents itself as an issue not of Natural Law, but as partisanship and, to an indirect but not unequal degree, sheer unfortunate circumstances, I felt necessary a short explanation of the rights that are disagreed upon by the parties of Washington.
When discussion of Natural Rights occurs in the realm of US law, generally, but not uniformly, thoughts of various philosophical concepts that are based on general education and not of practical use are discussed, in that the philosophy is not expressly stated in the formation of United States law. Of such concepts, debate rages between who is right and who is wrong, but these debates are erroneous to the ends to be gained which are the conviction or acquittal of a defendant in a court of law.
The argument is essentially separated by one party’s understanding of the Constitutional clause dictating the use of military courts. The one side wishes to see Mohammed tried in civil courts, the other in military courts.
However, as is always the case in American politics, party lines are drawn not only on the execution of whatever end each may see fit, but in the reason of the taken stance.
One side claims that rights are uniformly present among men throughout the world and, indeed, that American tradition should be prided on the use of defense for all of those who are tried in the American court system. The opposing side feels that rights brought forth by American tradition and law are exclusive to the citizenry of the United States.
The former is correct.
Numerous arguments can be made in support of the former’s statement of rights and in opposition to the latter’s definition of them, but those including the use of documents of American founding would suffice to be the strongest.
First, the Constitution of the United States secures within it and within its passed amendments the absolute security of the right, not privilege, of defense in a court of law. This is the most obvious example, however overlooked by the political body in the US Capitol, and, from a practical standpoint, the strongest. Indeed, even the use of military tribunals cannot be defended for America is not currently, nor were we on September 11, 2001, officially at war as defined by the Constitution.
However, there is another example that, while not binding in to the same effect as the Constitution, is equally informative to the tradition of America’s understanding of rights, if not more so. It goes as follows:
When in the course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them to another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect for the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes that impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the pursuit of Happiness. That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the Governed…
While I wish to continue a dictation of the rest of this document, these are the relevant words to the current discussion.
Much is said within these two paragraphs and much of it is overlooked, not only in the case of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, but in various and unfortunately vast areas of current society. Simply put, these lines explain the rights are perpetual and universal, that no body of man on the face of this Earth provides or can deny the enumerated rights described by Jefferson. It is God, or to the secular, our humanity, or mere existence, that create these rights. Thus, citizens of the United States or not, all of man have these rights.
This explains how those advocating a civil trial with presence of a counsel of defense for Mohammed are, in respect to constitutional law as well as documented American tradition, correct.
But what of a larger message? One with more relevance to contemporary society than just the fair trial of one man? The answer lies in the direction our country is headed.
We were the bastion of liberty upon the creation of our nation. We were a country built not upon traditions of divine authority or royal purity, but principle. An example to which all the nations, during and after the creation of our nation, could turn to for direction on the path to liberty. Of all the nations that have existed and may ever exist, we had the greatest chance at success. Yet, as Jefferson so perfectly described,
“Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shown, that mankind are disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed.”
We have been taken aback by apathy, fear, entitlement, and unsubstantiated thoughts of security to surrender our freedoms; and with each additional sacrifice the light of liberty grows ever dimmer so as to fade into obscurity. This case, of Mohammed, shows that, in America, we are no longer a nation built upon principle, but on “prudence.” We are no longer fighting for the security of our liberty from those who wish to take it away and, instead, are fighting for the security of ourselves from liberty.
This direction will only lead to suffering and despotism. Cases such as these may seem trivial and, indeed, may be absent the realm of casual discourse sooner rather than later, but it is an example of the loss of principle that befalls every great nation as it runs towards its grave. A nation that is not built on principles of liberty can only be built upon sand for liberty is the only foundation steady enough to befit a country pursuing life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. As we surrender our principles for prudence regarding those who commit atrocities of near genocide, how long is it before they are surrendered for prudence regarding everyone else?
Freedom is but a speck on the time-line of man. We must fight for it even if in doing so we must lay a reluctant hand of equality on monsters who have committed intolerable acts of aggression, for if we are to take one misstep, to hesitant for even a moment, then those who wish to take our freedom from us will succeed. It will not come from those from some foreign land, but those to whom we trust to secure our rights.
But when the long train of abuses and usurpations pursuing invariably the same Object, evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.
God forbid it should ever come to that.Published in