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Truly Conservative 

by Robert Stokes & r & & r & & lt;span class= "dropcap " & T & lt;/span & he U.S. Supreme Court recently rejected the special tribunals President Bush had established to try people seized during the war on terror. The case involved Salim Ahmed Hamdan, a Yemeni man who admits being Osama Bin Laden's driver. Hamdan was captured during the Afghan war by the Northern Alliance (our ally), sold to U.S. forces for a bounty and shipped to Guantanamo Bay. When he came before a special tribunal he was denied access to evidence in his case.


The Supreme Court said that cannot be done under American authority, regardless of a defendant's nationality. The Court thus reaffirmed the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which reads, in part, "the accused shall enjoy the right to ... be confronted with the witnesses against him."


Each and every provision of the Bill of Rights defends each and every individual from abusive government power -- or no single provision protects anyone from anything. That is why I defend the Second Amendment, which reads in part "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." I support that provision because it is in the Bill of Rights, not because of my personal interests or attitudes concerning firearms.


I invite other supporters of the right to bear arms to join me in condemning President Bush for attacking the Bill of Rights (the foundation for gun rights) and in congratulating the Supreme Court for defending all the rights and freedoms protected by the Bill of Rights.


The Fifth Amendment reads, in part, "private property [shall not] be taken for public use without just compensation." I invite other supporters of private property rights to join me in condemning President Bush for attacking the Bill of Rights (the foundation for property rights) and in congratulating the U.S. Supreme Court for defending all the rights and freedoms protected by the Bill of Rights.


The Tenth Amendment reads, in part, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution nor prohibited by it to the states are reserved to the states respectively or to the people." I invite other supporters of states rights to join me in condemning President Bush for attacking the Bill of Rights (the foundation for states rights) and in congratulating the U.S. Supreme Court for defending all the rights and freedoms protected by the Bill of Rights.


Conservatives clenched their teeth when President Franklin Roosevelt brushed aside the Constitution's confinement of federal regulatory power to interstate commerce during the 1930s, because it interfered with his New Deal. Likewise when President Lyndon Johnson sacrificed constitutionally protected states rights during the 1960s, because they interfered with his civil rights initiatives. Likewise today, when gun control advocates diminish the constitutionally protected right to bear arms.


Disclosures since 9/11 reveal that President Bush also swept aside many constitutionally protected rights during the hysterical early days of his "War on Terror." As Hamdan's case highlights, one of those rights was the ancient English common law principle (reflected in the U. S. Constitution's Fourth Amendment) that a defendant has the right to confront his accusers.


The President's allies in the Congress and elsewhere are launching a campaign to restore special tribunals, in which defendant rights are no more than what the President says they are. Commentators say that effort could energize the GOP's conservative base during this election year.


Conservative columnist Paul Greenberg has appropriate words for this strategy. "There have always been those who would reduce the conservative impulse to something narrow and mean and afraid ... Like Lincoln before him, [Ronald Reagan] was willing to accept the know-nothings' votes but drew the line at substituting their prejudices for his principles."


Sadly, pandering to the "mean, narrow, afraid, know-nothing" branch of American conservatism has become the keystone of Bush/Rove political strategy. As we get past the Bush era, thoughtful conservatives must change that.


There will be more cases like Hamdan's to test the integrity of American conservatism. True conservatives must consistently support individual rights and oppose government programs (and officials) that infringe on them. Otherwise, we give credence to the recurring liberal criticism that we are driven by nothing more honorable than our special interests and momentary passions.


Though it may make the blood of some conservatives boil, defense of individual rights, personal freedom and constitutional government means giving Osama bin Laden's driver a fair trial.





Robert Stokes is a retired college professor who lives in Spokane.

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