Amir Meshal and the End of Constitutional Rights

Amir MeshalAmir Meshal is a young man from New Jersey. Back in 2006, he was in Somalia. But when war broke out, he fled to Kenya where he was picked up by the American military and interrogated more than thirty times — variously tortured and generally having his constitutional rights ignored. What’s more, these government officials threatened to make him “disappear.” Or at least that is what is alleged in Meshal v Higgenbotham, which has been dragging on for six years. But I see no reason to doubt that we did exactly this to Meshal. This is the sort of thing that we do all the time.

I’m especially interested in the threat to make Meshal “disappear. The most basic right in a nation is habeas corpus. There can be no kind of justice if the government isn’t even admitting that they are holding a citizen. And the United States has been doing this over and over again by handing people over to governments don’t abide by such laws. Of course, what this means is that we don’t abide by such such laws. Our military and intelligence institutions seem to do whatever they want. They are above the law and few people care until they are directly effected by such lawlessness.

Aljazeera America reported the most recent status of the case, US Citizen Fights to Sue FBI Agents for “Inhuman” Detention Abroad. The problem with the case is that it keeps getting thrown out for a classic reason: the government claims that a trial would harm national security. This is hogwash, of course. This is just the government security bureaucracy protecting its own. But there is a sense in which such a case would harm national security: what has happened to Amir Meshal is almost certainly common. So to reveal what our government does to its citizens every day would indeed cause problems. The people might decide the government shouldn’t do that.

His story is incredible, but hardly the worst of what our government does to its citizens. Meshal had gone to Egypt to stay with relatives and then to Somalia to study. After fighting broke out, he found himself with four other refugees wandering in a forest for many days before they were picked up by Kenyan soldiers. The US military than moved him around to various sites where he was abused. Four months later, he was released without charges or comment. “The US government is not denying the allegations or contesting them, merely arguing that Meshal’s Fourth and Fifth Amendment rights to a prompt hearing and due process don’t apply in cases involving national security issues abroad.”

The government’s position on this seems to be like it was in the case of Anwar al-Awlaki. In that case, the government basically said that if an American citizen is outside the country, it has the right to assassinate. In this case, if an American citizen is outside the country, the citizen has no constitutional rights. I can just hear the Fox News viewers’ response to this, “Well, I never leave the country, so I have nothing to worry about!” This is really troubling. I’m not big on slippery slope arguments, but there really is no reason to believe that the government will continue to find bigger and bigger carve-outs for our constitutional rights. As it is, we have a system where journalists can print anything they want; but any person who gives them information the government doesn’t like is looking at decades in prison.

Increasingly, Americans have to be brave, because the government won’t abide them being free.

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About Frank Moraes

Frank Moraes is a freelance writer and editor online and in print. He is educated as a scientist with a PhD in Atmospheric Physics. He has worked in climate science, remote sensing, throughout the computer industry, and as a college physics instructor. Find out more at About Frank Moraes.

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