by Milo Clark
(Swans - March 14, 2005) Human rights and civil liberties function to reduce fear and to release bonds.
A touchstone of civil liberties and human rights is the Magna Carta (1215) in which English barons forced King John to back down and to accept restraints on royal powers and prerogatives. The limited monarchy is born.
The Magna Carta reads less intelligibly than Chaucer or Shakespeare in today's understandings, yet underlays and is foundation for today's assumptions of civil liberties and human rights.
Still to some, our present uses as "civil liberties" and "human rights" create an unnecessary duality. Once more commonly asserted as "positive rights" or "natural law," there was an assumption that fear and bonds were negative and unnatural.
Nearly five centuries later (1688-89), after King James II abdicated, the Magna Carta was expanded and clarified in The English Bill of Rights. It specifies that suspension of laws or suspension of execution of laws without consent of parliament is illegal. Usurpation of parliamentary authority by the crown or executive is illegal. The 1688 parliament was reacting to attempts by James II to establish a theocracy. By this Bill of Rights, the limited monarchy is asserted more strongly and backed by a strengthening of parliamentary authority.
Coming forward to the core documents underlaying the once United States of America, we find established a balance of powers between executive, legislative and judicial branches of government. Clarification of natural laws was embodied in the first ten amendments, a US Bill of Rights.
Present seizure of authority, assuming sole control of governance, lies almost exclusively within the executive branch and contradicts centuries of precedence embodied in English history and English Common Law. That common law underlays the American legal system. Given this distortion, the American legal system is in peril.
Fear and bonds are once again assumed as policy and seized by arrogant authority. We are told to be terrified of terrorists and to accept containment as essential to a war without end on an amorphous and elusive enemy. Explicit acts curtailing rights are forced through a supine Congress. Barbaric practices are given the cover of executive legal opinion.
In the once United States of America, it has long been policy that the regular army or military is not to be used in domestic situations. The National Guard was given these tasks and only under stringent constraints. We now find that a regular Army Special Forces group, perhaps as many as 13,000, has been trained, held in readiness and was deployed around Washington, D.C. during the recent inauguration. Those who spread fear are containing themselves in fear.
Until recently, the operating authority of the US Federal Bureau of Investigation was confined to domestic matters. Likewise, the operating authority of the US Central Intelligence Agency was confined to external affairs. Similarly, the various military branches which each operate an intelligence function collected now within the Defense Intelligence Agency were constrained to military affairs. All of which guidelines are now blurred and subsumed within the Executive Branch.
These and similar extensions and abrogations of authority by the American Executive Branch create circumstances echoing conditions in England before 1215 and again before 1688-89. Another century later, the American colonies, sorely feeling the arrogance of King George III, published first a Declaration of Independence in which assertions of natural rights predominate. Later, the Constitution, curiously silent on matters of rights, was amended with a formal Bill of Rights. In short, the once United States of America under the present administration has rolled back history roughly 800 years. In this way, natural rights, by some never conceded in fact, are declared unnatural by fiat.
First published in 1979, The Human Rights Reader, edited by Walter Laqueur and Barry Rubin, is heartbreaking to read in 2005.