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What is the Real Strength of the United States?

How many Maher Arars are still languishing in secret prisons, tortured on a hunch, still waiting for some facsimile of due process?
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When I can stomach them, I rather enjoy the comic relief provided by political pundits on the cable talk shows who must now assume the role of having to defend the administration's torture policies.

It is bad enough watching them attempt to make bread without yeast as they valiantly try to link the occupation of Iraq to the ongoing war on terror, but to hear them make the case for torture would indeed be down right hysterical were it not so profoundly un-American.

It is definitely not a laughing matter when the individual who helped the administration make the case for the existing torture policy, as was UC Berkeley law professor and former deputy assistant attorney general, John Yoo, who wrote a recent op-ed in the New York Times justifying the president's questionable policies.

My understanding of Yoo's thesis is that in order to fight terror in a post-9/11 world requires that one "make reinvigorating the presidency a priority." Rather than seeing that the administration's actions as overreaching due to the failure of congressional oversight, we should instead view the president as working toward a long overdue constitutional correction.

Yoo is historically correct, saying that the president is not the first to amass more power during times of war. Presidents of all parties have participated in this practice--Lincoln and Franklin Roosevelt are shining examples. But if one peels back the layers of Yoo's intellectual argument we find adolescent reasoning: "Well other presidents did it too, why can't Mr. Bush?"

No doubt this was the advice that the president received that led to the torture at Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, and worse, secret prisons allegedly beyond the jurisdiction of the Geneva Conventions.

In 2002, Maher Arar, a Canadian engineer with dual Syrian citizenship, was caught in the constitutional vortex of reinvigorating the presidency. While returning from Tunisia, Mr. Arar landed at Kennedy Airport and was held over. Ultimately, he wound up in Syria where for 10 months he was held in a tiny cell and beaten with a metal cable.

Justice Dennis O'Connor headed the commission that looked into Mr. Arar's case stated at a news conference: "I am able to say categorically that there is no evidence to indicate that Mr. Arar has committed any offense or that his activities constituted a threat to the security of Canada." Embarrassingly, though the United States handled Mr. Arar's case that led to his torture, it refused to cooperate in the aftermath.

What are we becoming? Can this simply be dismissed as: "tragic, but better them than us?" It certainly begs the question: How many Maher Arars are still languishing in secret prisons, tortured on a hunch, still waiting for some facsimile of due process?

Lest, we forget that it is the administration's contention that such individuals are outside of the Geneva Conventions. The problem began the moment we allowed "war on terror" to be inducted into our public policy lexicon.

Terror is a strategy to achieve political objectives through violence. To have a war on terror is to engage in a conflict without end. Unless we are prepared to commit ourselves to democratic principles that are rooted in fascism, Congress must do now what it should have done five years ago.

Because other president's have sought to gain power during times of war does not inherently make it right. Whenever there is a conflict should we assume that habeas corpus will be suspended or something akin to Japanese interment camps will be instituted? Moreover, should we also conclude that Congress and the people should forgo their constitutional obligation to question such tactics?

Our most formidable weapon is not our military strength, but rather our democratic ideals, which includes checks and balances on the three federal branches of government. It therefore seems oxymoronic that we would embrace a strategy that requires that we toss aside that strength in order to engage in a conflict on the terms we claim to abhor from our perceived enemies.