Rising star senator for waterboarding. Do you care?

Riding around Massachusetts in his pickup truck, Scott Brown hit a home run when he insisted: “This is not a Kennedy seat or a Democratic seat. It’s the people’s seat.” For a while, I thought Thomas Jefferson’s prophecy might be coming true:

“Whenever the people are well-informed, they can be trusted with their own government. ... Whenever things get so far wrong as to attract their notice, the people, if well informed, may be relied on to set them to rights.”

Were I still in Massachusetts, where I grew up, I would have voted – as an independent libertarian – for Brown. I would have agreed with at least 64 percent of Massachusetts’s large contingent of independent voters who were for him primarily because of the imminent passage of Obamacare. As pollster Tony Fabrizio (New York Post, Jan. 21) confirmed:

“Health care was the top issue in this race and voters were voting against the Obama health-care plan.”

The president had reminded many Americans, not only the elderly, that we are all mortal and could be subjected to government rationing not only for our health care, but for our very lives.

I was also attracted to Brown’s naturalness. He was not a teleprompter candidate. I even thought he might be a new Paul Revere who – as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote of the original silversmith – “in the hour of darkness and peril and need” caused “the people (to) waken.”

But the day after Brown’s victory, I read in a New York Times report that, “Mr. Brown supports waterboarding as an interrogation technique for terrorism suspects, and opposes civilian trials for them.” Revere may have had some doubts about that.



I wondered whether the continually criticized Dick Cheney was elated that Brown agreed with him on waterboarding. I also was surprised that, in the extensive subsequent coverage of Brown I saw, there had been no additional mention of his views on this degree of “coercive” interrogation that would prevent what was extracted by that technique from being allowed as evidence in our courts.

During the cynosural senator’s conquering speech the night before, I was not cheered to hear him say that the Constitution does “not grant rights and privileges to enemies in wartime. In dealing with terrorists, our tax dollars should pay for weapons to stop them, not lawyers to defend them.”

I was not aware that our government provides tax funds to the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and other defenders of such American principles as constitutional due process.

As for Brown’s opposition to “giving new rights to terrorists,” does he believe that suspects not yet proven to be terrorists – like those held for years at Guantanamo Bay and now at our Bagram prison in Afghanistan – are not entitled to any rights at all? This was the extra-judicial position of the previous administration and is increasingly being applied to certain terrorism suspects by the Obama administration.

Brown highlighted his acceptance speech by assuring all of us: “I go to Washington as the representative of no faction or interest, answering only to my conscience and to the people.” The Constitution, too?

If I had known about any of these John Yoo-like Brown beliefs, which commendably he does not hide, before the epochal Massachusetts election, I would still have voted for him rather than for a Democrat supporting federal commissions deciding at what point American lives cost too much taxpayer funds to continue.

But now, I strongly hope the press, civil liberties and human-rights organizations will urge Brown to further detail his definition of adhering to American values in defending us against terrorism and against those, including Americans, who allegedly provide them with material support.

For a pressing example of Obama American values, a front-page story in the Jan. 22 Washington Post reported that “A Justice Department-led task force has concluded that nearly 50 of the 196 detainees at the U.S. military prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, should be held indefinitely without trial under the laws of war, according to Obama administration officials.”

Specifically, Sen. Brown, which laws of war, and which of our laws, legalize indefinite imprisonment despite our own Magna Carta?

President Obama holds that these suspects are considered too dangerous to release, according to the Post report, “and because detainees could challenge evidence obtained through coercion.”

Such “detainees” could thereby be kept for the rest of their lives in what opponents of permanent imprisonment rightly call “a legal black hole.”

I ask Sen. Scott Brown his reaction to what Justice Thurgood Marshall said in dissent (U.S. v. Salerno, 1987): “Throughout the world today there are men, women, and children interned indefinitely, awaiting trials which may never come or which may be a mockery of the word, because their governments believe them to be ‘dangerous.’ Our Constitution, whose construction began two centuries ago, can shelter us forever from the evils of such unchecked power.”

Has President Obama gone too far beyond the Constitution, Sen. Brown? Said Michael Ratner, president of the Center for Constitutional Rights: “The claim that some ... detainees can’t be tried is a pretext that will usher in a scheme that is contrary to 225 years of U.S. law.”

So have other “pretexts” in our past until the Constitution was again revived. For example, Japanese-American internment camps in World War II. Permanent imprisonment outside the law will not arouse Americans anywhere near the furious way Obamacare did. Nor will many members of Congress be heard from on this. Do you think Sen. Brown will be one of them? Will you be heard as an American?

Nat Hentoff is a nationally renowned authority on the First Amendment and the Bill of Rights. He is a member of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, and the Cato Institute, where he is a senior fellow.

Copyright 2010, Nat Hentoff.

Distributed by United Feature Syndicate, Inc.

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