How the Senate Murdered the Bill of Rights

National Defense Authorization Act threatens the political freedom Americans hold dear.

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I have a part time gig teaching government at Suffolk University in Boston. At Suffolk, I have taught many international students. I have had students from Asia, Africa, the Middle East, and Russia. Many of these kids come from countries that are virtually police states. There is no rule of law in these lands, only the strong and unresponsive will of a petty dictator.

The political freedom in the United States blows their minds. When I talk about the Bill of Rights that keeps America from becoming a police state, they listen in amazement. I really feel good about teaching these international students because some of them will go back to their homelands and fight for the many freedoms Americans enjoy and take for granted.

[See an opinion slide show of 5 ways Arab governments resist democracy.]

And most of my American students do take their liberties for granted. They figure that political freedom has always been there and will always be around. But neither my students nor Americans in general should take these civil liberties for granted. There's always someone who wants more control and will fight to take our liberties away.

That's what happened in the U.S. Senate last week. Last week the Senate approved the National Defense Authorization Act which contained a rider that gives the military the authority to arrest Americans suspected of being terrorists or terrorist sympathizers. This bill allows the military to detain a suspect indefinitely without trial or any other legal protections. In one swoop, the Senate dealt a death blow to the legal protections in the Fifth and Sixth Amendments in the Constitution. Sixty-two senators blew off the due process of law guaranteed in the Bill of Rights with the same ease that Kim Kardashian ditched her husband.

The media obsession with the Herman Cain sex circus allowed the enemies of freedom to get away with the murder of the Bill of Rights last week. Many of the international students I teach are Arabs and Muslims. Will the military detain me because I regularly exchange E-mails with them? The bill passed by the Senate gives authorities the power to do exactly that and they don't even have to prove my guilt in a court of law. Sounds like the policy of a police state to me.

[See photos of the crackdown in Syria.]

Please don't assume that the Supreme Court will protect your legal rights either. Wednesday was the anniversary of the attack on Pearl Harbor. After the attack President Franklin Delano Roosevelt allowed the local military commanders to detain loyal Japanese Americans and toss them into concentration camps. One of the victims of this abuse of power was Fred Korematsu. He was an American citizen of Japanese descent born in the United States. After the Army tossed him into the can, Korematsu filed suit in federal court and accused the United States government of violating his constitutional right to due process of law. In a unanimous decision, the Supreme Court told Korematsu to go pound sand and enjoy the hospitality offered in the concentration camp for the duration of the war. Thousands of these loyal Japanese Americans later fought and died for the country that betrayed them. We owe them a debt of gratitude and an apology.

Like Korematsu, I am a hyphenated American. I'm Irish-American and he was Japanese-American. The Irish have a long history of terrorism towards England which was a U.S. ally during World War II. Just imagine the outrage if FDR had thrown Irish Americans into concentration camps.

[See a slide show of 6 vulnerable potential terrorist targets.]

Most Americans are ashamed of this ugly episode in American history and they may come to feel the same way about the Senate's recent action. We don't export steel anymore but we do have an important commodity that the rest of the world needs desperately: freedom. And if we lose liberty, we will have nothing valuable left to sell to the rest of the world.

  • See photos of the NATO protests in Pakistan
  • Check out our editorial cartoons on Afghanistan.
  • See photos of the prison at Guantánamo Bay.