A Fistful of Lawyers — and A Few Lawyers More

Fistful of Lawyers

Originally Published March 6, 2007

LAST MONTH [February 2007], President George W. Bush signed a Valentine that adds a new layer to the rising wall of military rule in these United States of America. Called “Trial of Alien Unlawful Enemy Combatants by Military Commission”, the Executive Order follows last October’s Military Commissions Act, which purports to “facilitate bringing to justice terrorists and other unlawful enemy combatants through full and fair trials by military commissions, and for other purposes.”

Last month’s Executive Order — new law of the land, courtesy of a penstroke — is a bit of muscle-flexing by our esteemed president as he establishes the military tribunals called for in the 2006 Act.My big question is: Who defines ‘terrorist’, ‘unlawful combatant’, and more to the point a ‘Citizen’?

Recently, while watching last month’s three-ring media circus, The Anna Nicole Smith Hearing, I couldn’t help thinking of the old joke — How many lawyers does it take to change a lightbulb? The answer:

Whereas the party of the first part, also known as “Lawyer”, and the party of the second part, also known as “Light Bulb”, do hereby and forthwith agree to a transaction wherein the party of the second part (Light Bulb) shall be removed from the current position as a result of failure to perform previously agreed upon duties, i.e., the lighting, elucidation, and otherwise illumination of the area ranging from the front (north) door, through the entryway, terminating at an area just inside the primary living area, demarcated by the beginning of the carpet, any spillover illumination being at the option of the party of the second part (Light Bulb) and not required by the aforementioned agreement between the parties. The aforementioned removal transaction shall include, but not be limited to, the following steps:1.) The party of the first part (Lawyer) shall, with or without elevation at his option, by means of a chair, stepstool, ladder or any other means of elevation, grasp the party of the second part (Light Bulb) and rotate the party of the second part (Light Bulb) in a counter-clockwise direction, this point being non-negotiable.2.) Upon reaching a point where the party of the second part (Light Bulb) becomes separated from the party of the third part (“Receptacle”), the party of the first part (Lawyer) shall have the option of disposing of the party of the second part (Light Bulb) in a manner consistent with all applicable state, local and federal statutes.3.) Once separation and disposal have been achieved, the party of the first part (Lawyer) shall have the option of beginning installation of the party of the fourth part (“New Light Bulb”). This installation shall occur in a manner consistent with the reverse of the procedures described in step one of this self-same document, being careful to note that the rotation should occur in a clockwise direction, this point also being non-negotiable. NOTE: The above described steps may be performed, at the option of the party of the first part (Lawyer), by any or all persons authorized by him, the objective being to produce the most possible revenue for the party of the fifth part, also known as “Partnership.”

Such is the problem facing anyone who seeks to unravel the intentionally circular language used in government-issue legal documents. This morning, while sipping a comforting cup of Gilbert House Blend coffee, I discovered our Valentine Day Executive Order and set about to decipher the implications for Mr. and Mrs. American Citizen. The actual order refers to the 2006 Military Commissions Act, so I had to uncover the text of the act — and read it.Let’s just say this — no amount of coffee can prepare one to tackle legal labyrinths such as these.

Section 948a(1) UNLAWFUL ENEMY COMBATANT- (A) The term `unlawful enemy combatant’ means–`(i) a person who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents who is not a lawful enemy combatant (including a person who is part of the Taliban, al Qaeda, or associated forces)

According to this, an ‘unlawful enemy combatant’ is different from a ‘lawful enemy combatant’. Does this mean members of the Taliban are lawful? Or that Osama bin Laden is not included under the definitions of this act? To be fair, the next paragraph includes definitions of ‘lawful’ combatants, concluding that such lawful agents are military personnel — again, would this include the Taliban? The language is muddy — intentionally muddy, I would assert. By inserting the phrase ‘including a person who is part of the Taliban, etc.’ right after the phrase ‘lawful enemy combatant’ one could easily infer that such groups are included in the ‘lawful combatant’ category.

Wait a minute. Isn’t Al-Qaeda a terrorist, grass-roots group? This is important because February’s Executive Order refers to ‘unlawful enemy combatants’ only.Here’s another one:

(3) ALIEN- The term `alien’ means a person who is not a citizen of the United States.

This one appears straightforward, however nowhere in the act could I find a definition of a Citizen of the United States. Now before you think me odd for questioning such a simple word as citizen, we should all recall that room full of lawyers at Anna Nicole’s hearing. Eighteen lawyers and one judge had assembled to decide which party would receive the right of custody of Smith’s body for burial. Eighteen lawyers.

Now, picture John Q. Citizen, who has been named as a party to a domestic terrorist act and subsequently arrested. Mr. Citizen assumes he has rights — he is, after all, a born and raised American (why his family tree reaches back to Jamestown).

“Where is your RFID embedded identification card, sir?”

Mr. Citizen looks puzzled. He shows a two-year-old driver’s license.

“This is a forgery!” the FBI agent continues. “All US IDs have biometric information. Everyone knows that. That law went into effect last year.”

Mr. Citizen grows angry. “I want my lawyer — now!”

“Lawyer? You don’t get a lawyer unless you have one that has security clearance. This is a matter of national security, Mr. Unlawful Enemy Combatant. You don’t have rights. Only LEGAL citizens have them.”

So — I have to ask, “What’s in your wallet?” At what point will the REAL ID Act take precedence over state-issued identification. If this sounds far-fetched, imagine the same scenario with Mr. Citizen suddenly learning that his legal identity has been stolen by someone else, and that his biometric information no longer matches his own ID. Or that all traces of his existance had been erased.

All of this feels like stagecraft. Something is about to happen, dear friends — something that could require massive arrests and tribunals. I’m not one to fret over such matters, for my faith is in Jesus Christ, but I can’t help making the observations that the United States may very soon experience homeland terrorism on an unprecedented scale.Feeling queazy yet?

Happy Valentine’s Day from the White House.

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