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Wednesday, Oct. 11, 2006 10:29 pm

It's 2006, George, not 1706

His Royal Highness wants to imprison at will

It's 2006, George, not 1706

Here’s today’s phrase: habeas corpus.

This phrase embodies the democratic principle — enshrined in our Constitution — that government officials cannot arbitrarily arrest you, lock you up, and throw away the key. Habeas corpus, which literally means “produce the body,” is an essential safeguard against a police state, for it allows anyone to go to a court of law to challenge his or her imprisonment.

The founders insisted that there be legal checks on our officials (even the president) to prevent them from the exercise of naked governmental power. Habeas corpus is the legal procedure requiring government officials to present evidence that there is a reason to imprison someone. They can’t just do it on executive whim.

Until now, that is. Bush asserts that, as a “war president,” he is not bound by such constitutional niceties as habeas corpus. Not only is he claiming that he can grab anyone off our streets and even have them tortured — he has actually been doing it.

The shameful case of Maher Arar is one glaring example. Arar was seized by federal agents in New York in 2002 and zipped away to Syria, where he was tortured for a year before it finally dawned on his brutal inquisitors that he was innocent.

Far from acknowledging their horrific error, much less apologizing to Arar, the Bushites have tried to brush off their responsibility. “We were not responsible for [Arar’s] removal to Syria,” said U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. A spokesman blamed Gonzales’ statement on a bureaucratic misunderstanding, saying: “He had his timeline mixed up.”

Damn right he did. The Bushites think this is 1706, not 2006, and that George is the Royal Highness — not merely a president who is required to honor the people’s constitutional protections, including habeas corpus.

Jim Hightower is a national radio commentator, columnist, and author.

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