Bush Second President to Reluctantly Restore Rights
President Bush is the second president to reluctantly restore Constitutional rights to those accused of being enemies of the United States and held indefinitely without any proof or trial.
Yesterday, in a five to four decision, the Supreme Court ruled that the 270 prisoners, held for more than six years for alleged links with al-Qaida and the Taliban, have a constitutional right to take their cases to civilian courts on the U.S. mainland.
Although Bush was unhappy with the decision, he said he would abide by it, just as President Abraham Lincoln reluctantly released hundreds of suspected rebels and Southern sympathizers arrested at the outbreak of the Civil War and held for months without being charged.
One such victim under Lincoln was the newly elected Mayor of Baltimore City.
When the people of Baltimore elected reform candidate George W. Brown mayor by a landslide in 1860, they had no idea he would serve most of his term confined as a federal prisoner. Much has been written about the bloody clash on Apr. 19, 1861 between an angry Baltimore mob and the 6th Massachusetts Regiment marching down Pratt Street to Camden Station, when the first blood of the Civil War was spilled, but there are few detailed accounts about the subsequent arrest and imprisonment of Baltimore’s Mayor Brown five months later.
He was arrested in the middle of the night along with more than a dozen other prominent Marylanders, including legislators, a member of Congress and several newspaper editors. Although Brown was meticulous in recording many details of his arrest, he made it clear in his memoir that he wanted to forget his prison experiences.
After all, the 49-year-old educated, cultured lawyer, who had been elected mayor by running on a reform platform, must have found it a strange twist of fate that he was imprisoned while the members of the various violent, city gangs such as the Plug Uglies and the Red Tubs were free to roam the streets again — by simply passing themselves off as staunch Union men.
“By this time the disorderly element, which infests all cities, had gone over to the stronger side, and was engaged in the pious work of persecuting rebels, Brown wrote.
These were the same gangs that terrorized the voting polls throughout the city when they were members of the Know Nothing Party, impeding voting rights of thousands of newly arrived German and Irish immigrants, who had become naturalized citizens.
During the 1859 municipal elections, members of such a lawless crew had confronted Brown at the 10th Ward polls, seized him by the throat, stomped his feet and stuck him with sharp instruments leaving 20 punctures on his body.
So it must have been difficult for Brown, who had stood up for the Constitutional rights of others, to find his suddenly stripped away.
When soldiers arrested Brown and the other Maryland citizens in the middle of the night on Sept. 12, 1861, it was an action sanctioned by Lincoln’s unprecedented suspension of habeas corpus. There were no formal charges filed against those arrested; there was no evidence presented against them; and none of them ever received a trial. Eventually, Lincoln acquiesced to pressure from the Supreme Court and Congress and released Brown and many others being held. Brown never felt the same about his rights as a citizen and the government never apologized to him or his fellow captives.
To me, this action represents a dark time in U.S. history when the rule of law that is guaranteed under the Constitution was suspended, supposedly to preserve the Union. It also represents an illegal action that set a dangerous precedent, which until yesterday was being followed, and abused whenever those in power perceive our national security is threatened by terrorism, or any other internal or external threat.