What a fantastic credit to the legal profession that lawyers and judges are playing the leading role in resisting tyranny in Pakistan.
Thousands of lawyers are defying Pakistani military dictator Pervez Musharraf’s imposition of martial law by street protests all across the country. But Musharraf, in the finest tradition of dictators, is fighting back, sending his loyal, baton-wielding gendarmes into the streets, where they are beating up the lawyers and hauling them away by their legs and arms. Lawyers are being taken to jail bleeding or passed out from the tear gas that Musharraf’s goons are shooting at them. Estimates are that 500-700 lawyers are now in jail.
And it’s all thanks to the military dictatorship of Pervez Musharraf, the close friend and partner of George W. Bush, and no doubt the new hero of U.S. neo-conservatives for his “law-and-order” crackdown, especially against those pesky lawyers and judges who sometimes stand in the way of dictatorial powers.
Earlier this week, Musharraf actually fired the entire Supreme Court for daring to question the constitutionality of his rule. Imagine that: a president firing the entire Supreme Court! And Musharraf has even put some of the members of the Supreme Court under house arrest. That was on top of his suspension of Pakistan’s constitution.
For his part, President Bush is urging his partner and ally Musharraf to give up his army post and to hold elections “as soon as possible.” According to the New York Times, Bush gave “no indication that the general’s imposition of emergency rule would bring about any significant change in American policy.” That means, of course, that millions of U.S. taxpayer dollars will continue to be funneled into the coffers of Musharraf and his military goons. (Think about that when you’re doing your best to make ends meet this Christmas.)
But let’s address a more pertinent topic: How is Musharraf’s disrespect for the Pakistani constitution, the Supreme Court, the legal profession, and the law any different, in principle, from that of his partner Bush? Yes, it’s true that Bush isn’t firing the U.S. Supreme Court and jailing lawyers but his attitude toward the judiciary, the Constitution, criminal-defense lawyers, and the rule of law is no different, in principle, from that of Musharraf.
Look at Gitmo. Why did Bush establish his torture-and-sex-abuse camp in Cuba rather than in the United States? For one reason: because he felt that it was the only way to avoid the application of the U.S. Constitution and any interference by the federal judiciary, including the Supreme Court. If a person believes in the principles of the Constitution, including the federal judiciary, then why would he attempt to avoid their application and their “interference”?
Look at the kangaroo proceedings at Gitmo. Do they bear any relationship to the principles enunciated in the Bill of Rights, principles that our ancestors fought to achieve and which stretch back to struggles against tyranny in ancient England? They do not. In fact, there is no difference in principle between how Bush has been treating people at Gitmo and how his partner Musharraf is now treating people in Pakistan.
Do you see trial by jury at Gitmo? Due process of law? Protection against cruel and unusual punishments? Protection against unreasonable searches and seizures? Effective assistance of counsel? Protection against self-incrimination? Speedy trials?
No, you don’t see any of those things there. Now, take a look at the Bill of Rights. Do you see any of those protections enumerated there? You see all of them.
Ask yourself: If the president and the Pentagon had a deeply seated belief in the principles of the Bill of Rights, wouldn’t they do their best to ensure that those rights were applied and honored at Gitmo? Yet, we all know that they’ve done the exact opposite at Gitmo — torturing and sexually abusing people, keeping them incarcerated for years without trial, and operating under one of the greatest kangaroo systems in history.
Just ask any lawyer who is representing a client at Gitmo. He will tell you that the Pentagon has treated them like dung, even denying them the age-old right to conduct completely confidential and privileged communications between their clients.
Let’s also not forget how the president and the Pentagon have done everything they can to circumvent the rulings of the U.S. Supreme Court regarding the treatment of people at Gitmo. Indeed, it was Bush himself who led the shameful and disgraceful effort to have Congress enact a law that removed the power of the federal courts to rule on habeas corpus cases filed by the Gitmo prisoners.
Let’s also not forget that the president, along with his new attorney-general designate, take the position that the president has the power to ignore the Constitution and the laws in his role as a war-on-terrorism commander in chief.
Pray tell: what’s the difference between Bush’s self-acquired power to ignore the Constitution and Musharraf’s suspension of his country’s constitution? Indeed, what’s the difference between Musharraf’s disrespect and dishonor of Pakistan’s constitution, Supreme Court, and bar associations and Bush’s disrespect and dishonor of America’s Constitution, Supreme Court, and bar associations?
Let’s just hope that if Bush keeps moving in the same direction of omnipotent government and tyranny exemplified by his partner and ally Musharraf that American lawyers will have the same courage and fortitude as those courageous and heroic Pakistani lawyers.