2 February
by John Vomastic

Oath of Office

During my time in the Navy, I reenlisted a lot of sailors. I knew the oath from memory. I always found it more meaningful when I looked someone directly in the eyes and said, “raise your right hand and repeat after me,” rather than looking down and reading the words from a sheet of paper. Part of the enlistment oath reads as follows: “I will support and defend the constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” I always found the word “domestic” thought provoking since the military really has no role in the domestic affairs of the country.

Now that I am retired, the words, “defend the constitution of the United States,” keep reappearing lately in my mind. While the threat to the security of the United States is decidedly foreign, could the threat to our constitution actually be domestic?

This train of thought led me to wonder what are the exact words, the President says when he takes his oath of office?

The oath of office for the President as read by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and repeated by the incoming President is as follows:

"I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will faithfully execute the office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States."

How well has President Bush executed the first part of his oath to faithfully execute the office of President of the United States? I will leave that to the judgement of the voters in the upcoming presidential election. It’s the second part of the oath that most concerns me.

President Bush swore to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, but now trivializes the document by threatening to amend it to define the status of marriage.

Prisoners are held indefinitely at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, without being charged and without a right to counsel. By declaring the prisoners enemy combatants, they are also denied their rights as prisoners of war under the Geneva conventions. These actions have greatly diminished the stature of the U.S., a country once esteemed throughout the world for espousing human rights in large part based on our own Constitution. The Supreme Court has decided to rule on the constitutionally of these government actions.

The Supreme Court will also hear another case in which a U.S. citizen, Yaser Hamdi, has been held in a Navy brig on U.S soil indefinitely (two years now) on orders of the President, without charges. Only after the Supreme Court decided to rule on the case was Hamdi allowed to consult with a lawyer.

It is interesting to note that the oath of office that the supreme Court Justices take does not contain the phrase, “support and defend the constitution of the United States.” Their oath is as follows:

"I, [NAME], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will administer justice without respect to persons, and do equal right to the poor and to the rich, and that I will faithfully and impartially discharge and perform all the duties incumbent upon me as [TITLE] under the Constitution and laws of the United States. So help me God.''

It may be that the real defenders of our Constitution will be the Supreme Court and not those who took an oath to defend it.

Members of the President’s Cabinet also take an oath that contains the words, “support and defend the Constitution of the United States.” This includes our Attorney General, John Ashcroft. I often wonder if he remembers his oath in light of his vehement support for Patriot Act. The situation reminds of a married couple who had just taken their marriage vows and then had their first serious argument (or in the case of country, the events of 9/11). One spouse could then said to the other, okay, I now have the right to go out and commit adultery.

What is also disturbing are the remarks made by General Tommy Franks on 21 November, 2003, in an interview with men’s lifestyle magazine Cigar Aficionado. He said that if the United States were hit with a weapon of mass destruction that inflicts large casualties, the Constitution will likely be discarded in favor of a military form of government.

General Franks was head of Centcom (Central Command - Includes Afghanistan and Iraq) when the attacks of 9/11 occurred and remained in charge until August 2003, long after Bush declared major combat operations were over in Iraq. I don’t know the reasoning behind why General Franks made that statement, but his position provided him a perspective into the rationale of the decision-makers in our government. He said that within hours of the attacks, he was given orders to prepare to root out the Taliban in Afghanistan and to capture bin Laden. He would also have insight into how our rulers feel about the rules of war, treatment of prisoners, respect for international law and our constitution. I wish had a comfortable feeling about all this, but I don’t.

Which brings me back to my original thought. Could the real threat to our Constitution be domestic? Could the threat really be from those who took an oath to support and defend it?

 

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