"...do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic..."

"For the good of the Air Force, for the good of the armed services and for the good of our country, I urge you to reject convention and careerism..."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, Maxwell AFB, April 21, 2008

"You will need to challenge conventional wisdom and call things like you see them to subordinates and superiors alike."
- Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, United States Air Force Academy, March 4, 2011

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

American Concentration Camps & Happy Turkeys

It's a crazy concept I know. What's more crazy is that concentration camps existed in America during the second world war. But I'm getting ahead of myself. First we really must talk about happy turkeys, or what has been called the parable of the happy turkey.
  1. In the morning, a nice man comes for a visit.
  2. He puts food in your bowl.
  3. The food is fresh and tasty.
  4. The food is always in plentiful supply.
  5. At night there's a warm place to sleep.
  6. The next day, the process is repeated. The nice man visits, he feeds you, and you sleep comfortably. It repeats day after day.
  7. You think: everything is right with the world. How could anything possibly go wrong? In fact, the only thing I really have to fear is getting hit by lightening when it rains or the rare chance a fox might get under the wire and into the coop (which very seldom happens). The Turkeys that worry about this are pessimists.
  8. One day, the nice man arrives.
  9. The nice man grabs you.
  10. He lays you across a stump, your neck exposed.
  11. He raises an axe and cuts off your head.
There is a valuable yet sad saying that those who do not know history, are doomed to repeat it. Valuable because it's true. Sad because it's typically only said after tragedy. I suspect the happy turkey's concept of history consisted only of his own limited experience, I doubt he knew anything about Bainbridge Island. But again I'm getting ahead of myself. First we must talk about a man named Gordon Hirabayashi.

In 1943, Mr. Hirabayashi was a young American student at the University of Washington. He was ordered to report to a concentration camp; an American concentration camp that operated in America during the war. He maintained that the order was a violation of his Fifth Amendment right to due process. That amendment informs us that life, liberty, and property cannot be taken without due process of law. He was sent to prison. Forty years later, after the court reviewed information that the executive branch had previously failed to hand over, it was ruled that the government had acted illegally. Mr. Hirabayashi stated:
There was a time when I felt that the Constitution failed me... But with the reversal in the courts and in public statements from the government, I feel that our country has proven that the Constitution is worth upholding. The U.S. government admitted it made a mistake. A country that can do that is a strong country. I have more faith and allegiance to the Constitution than I ever had before.
Mr. Hirabyashi was of course terribly wrong on one point. The Constitution did not fail him. Those who swore to defend that Constitution against enemies foreign and domestic failed him.

The military soldiers who rounded up American men, women, and children during that war to send to internment camps, no doubt took comfort in the idea that what they did had to be legal because the order came from the very President himself. That order was no doubt vetted by the President’s team of clever lawyers. But such lawyers do not make or decide the law. Those military servicemen should have known, and more than likely did, that the order they were following was patently illegal.

The first Americans forced into internment camps were taken from the Bainbridge Island, just west of Seattle and the University of Washington campus Mr. Hirabayashi attended. Recently I visited a memorial museum on the island and there I met an older man who gave me a tour of the displays and explained the camps in great detail. Hours later I discovered that he was born in one of those camps. I learned still later that after he grew up, he served in the United States Air Force and was stationed at Holloman AFB. He told me that his grandfather was also imprisoned in a camp, and that his grandfather had worked his entire life to buy a hotel in Seattle. Once ordered to an internment camp, he had to sell his hotel quickly as he had only three days to give himself up. He sold it to a man with the mutual understanding that he could buy it back if he made it out of the camps. The owner refused to sell when that day came. The livelihood he had sacrificed for his entire adult life was stolen from him. His hard earned career was sacrificed. Why? Because those who he paid to defend his freedom--the very same men who swore before God that they would do so--didn't have the character to do what they promised.

I remembered this story from the island when I learned that the Japanese American Citizens League a few days ago put out a warning concerning a law now before Congress; a law that would allow military forces to yet again arrest American citizens, here in America, without charge or trial and to hold them indefinitely. On the President's say so alone, you could be imprisoned for life and the government wouldn't have to charge you with anything, and you would have no right to confront your accuser, or to have evidence presented, or to be convicted by a jury of your peers. This new law, drafted by democratic Senator Carl Levin and republican Senator John McCain, includes the following language in section 1031:

“Congress affirms that the authority of the President to use all necessary and appropriate force … includes the authority for the Armed Forces of the United States to detain covered persons…. [including] [d]etention under the law of war without trial....”

The bill has already passed the House of Representatives with a vote of 322-96. It's now just waiting on the Senate to pass it. It's being looked at by the Senate right now, and may pass and become law at any moment.

UPDATE: Apparently the bill is being voted on right now in the Senate, and has a majority - three no votes are needed in order for there to be a filibuster.

UPDATE II: The bill passed both House and Senate. Text of the bill here.

There is quite the debate - some say the vague language of the bill does not extend to American citizens (which begs the question of why we need that portion of the bill), while others like U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) who voted against the bill in the House, think differently. Amash says the act would indeed “permit the federal government to indefinitely detain American citizens on American soil, without charge or trial, at the discretion of the President.” He notes that the language “does not preclude U.S. citizens from being detained indefinitely, without charge or trial, it simply makes such detention discretionary,” therefore it is misleading and outrageous.

As Mr. Hirabayashi, now a retired sociology professor, stated:
I would also say that if you believe in something, if you think the Constitution is a good one, and if you think the Constitution protects you, you better make sure that the Constitution is actively operating... and uh, in other words "constant vigilance". Otherwise, it's a scrap of paper. We had the Constitution to protect us in 1942. It didn't because the will of the people weren't behind it.
Below I have included video of a stage play titled, Dawn's Light: The Journey of Gordon Hirabayashi. The creators of the play describe their creation: "During WWII in Seattle, University of Washington student Gordon Hirabayashi agonizes over U.S. government orders to forcibly remove and imprison all people of Japanese ancestry on the West Coast. As he fights to reconcile his country's betrayal with his Constitutional beliefs, Gordon journeys toward a greater understanding of America's triumphs and failures." The key word in that description is betrayal.

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