Secret Military Tribunals: US Teaches World Loopholes in Democracy


I find myself intrigued with last evening’s installment on The Morningside Post, a new blog launched by students at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA).
SIPA apparently invited Libyan President Muammar al-Qaddafi to speak — which he did via teleconference.
Qaddafi’s views on Libya’s authentic democracy as compared to other fake ones fascinates:

Qaddafi pitched his version of democracy with determination. He seemed convinced that as Libya opens up to the world and the world begins to accept this historical pariah, Libyan democracy will be seen as the new, new thing.
“The world is duty bound to get acquainted with the Libyan system,” he said. “The U.S. . .China, the Russian Federation need to get acquainted with this system because it is a savior for them.”
He believes that Libyan democracy, with its people’s congresses, is the only true democracy in the world because other countries have representative democracy (Wonder what he thinks of the electoral college?). “All else is false and fake,” he said.
And what of Qaddafi’s views on free speech? Everyone is free to publish their views with full freedom, he explained. But, it’s still important to remember that you might turn out to be “liable.”
“It’s like driving on the wrong side of the road,” he explained. If an article is offensive, an opinionated Libyan may end up in court. And, Qaddafi said, if someone asks, “Why did you take him to court?” the answer is: “He violated the law.”

I am no fan of Qaddafi — but his words deserve scrutiny. I happen to know a few of the families of victims of the Pan Am 103 bombing who will never find it possible to listen to this thug’s thinking or words. I find it hard as well, but the fact that he is promulgating a narrative of democracy is interesting and important. He is, however, suggesting a warped and perverted democracy, and he’s learned the loopholes from places like us and Singapore.
The fact that he mentioned “liability” as a check on free expression is exactly what the Singapore government uses when it bankrupts political opponents of the ruling party. Read up on the case of Chee Soon Juan, who was recently a Reagan Fellow at the National Endowment for Democracy.
Singapore’s liability laws are an embarrassment and disgrace among modern states.
Likewise, when Christopher Lingle, an economics professor at the National University of Singapore wrote an article in the International Herald Tribune that said that judiciaries in some Southeast nations could not be considered “independent,” he was successfully sued in absentia for personable liable by Singapore Senior Minister Lee Kuan Yew. Lingle neither mentioned Lee nor the Singapore judiciary.
One sees how thugs — even thugs like Qaddafi who want out of the global dog house — take their cues from the rest of the “approved” roster of nations.
The SIPA poster on the Qaddafi digital encounter wonders what Qaddafi — in talking about “fake democracies” elsewhere — thinks about the U.S. electoral college. Only the electoral college can explain today why the Republican party (I’d mention the Democratic Party here but know of no similar behaviors) actually worked to vigorously challenge the credentials and voting rights of many elderly, Hispanic, and Black voters in Florida, Arkansas, Ohio, and other states. In other words, the Republicans deployed a system that was designed to put a speed-bump in the willingness of normal citizens to vote. Why? Because the electoral college has the capacity to move elections substantially if just one state tilts one way or another. If America had true popular voting for the presidency, there would only be an effort to get as many voters to the polls as possible — not efforts to try to inhibit voters in key counties in key states.
Our democracy is less impressive because of the behaviors we have seen in our last few elections — and other “talkers of democracy” at the helm of other nations are certainly learning that talking — rather than doing — can work for quite a long time.
I’ll go one step further than the electoral college example, which is safe to discuss because it is like an appendix in the American system and with us anachronistically because it has not been modified after being with us through much of America’s democratic experiment.
A better example is America’s establishment of post-9/11 military tribunals. The Supreme Court will hear this week an appeal case challenging the military tribunals system — and Antonin Scalia has already declared his staunch support of the tribunals.
Several years ago, I heard one of the most memorable speeches I have ever heard from Sonia Picado. Picado, former Costa Rica Ambassador to the United States, is now Chair of the Board of Directors of the Inter-American Institute of Human Rights and former President of the Costa Rica National Liberation Party. She also served as the first and only woman judge on the Inter-American Court of Human Rights.
When I heard her speak it was at the annual retreat of the Pacific Council on International Policy organized by Abraham Lowenthal in San Francisco.
Her message was simple. She said that for decades, democrats and democratizers fought militaristic thugs throughout Latin America. These thugs and their supporters were very well practiced in the art of secret military tribunals — and that the triumph of rule of law, transparency, basic human rights, and due process required an end to such secret dispensations of arbitrary justice.
She said that with a flick of John Ascroft’s pen, the military tribunals were given their birth and launch. They were not approved by Congress. They deprive those accused of fair hearings before their peers.
She said that this act sent “a cold chill” through democracies around the world because America had adopted one of the key institutions that they as genuine democrats had been trying to wipe out of existence.
To put this into context, imagine our efforts to rid the world of polio — when another case appeared not in some poor, remote part of the world — but surfaced in Washington, D.C.
Antonin Scalia is brilliant actually. It’s a huge mistake to underestimate this man.
However, Scalia is an enemy of democracy, of real and true democracy — not the kind that he has inspired in the likes of Qaddafi but the kind launched by the founding fathers of the United States of America.
America needs to stop teaching thugs in the world the loopholes in democratic process and needs to get back to walking the walk of democracy.
— Steve Clemons