The Center for Constitutional Rights, Human Rights Watch and MoveOn.org have launched a vital campaign to put restoration of the Constitution on the agenda for Democratic presidential candidates — just as the conservative American Freedom Agenda movement has done for Republican candidates.

CCR, Human Rights Watch and MoveOn have dubbed their initiative the American Freedom Campaign (AFC), and its goal is roughly parallel to that of the American Freedom Agenda movement launched by former Reagan administration lawyer Bruce Fein, former Georgia Congressman Bob Barr, veteran Republican strategist Richard Viguerie and American Conservative Union chairman David Keene: “to build grassroots support to restore checks and balances and reverse abuses of power by the executive branch.”

Like the American Freedom Agenda, which has dogged Republican candidates to sign on for restoration of the Constitution — with limited success, aside from an enthusiastic endorsement by Texas Congressman Ron Paul — the CCR/Human Rights Watch/MoveOn campaign will urge presidential candidates to sign its “American Freedom Pledge.”

The pledge reads:

We are Americans, and in our America we do not torture, we do not imprison people without charge or legal recourse, allow our phones and emails to be tapped without a court order, and above all we do not give any President unchecked power. I pledge to fight to protect and defend the Constitution from assault by any President.

The Constitution protects American Freedom. With checks and balances, and basic legal rights, it has prevented tyranny and safeguarded our liberty. Yet today, under the pretense of the “war on terror,” the White House is dismantling the Constitution, concentrating power in the President and undermining the rule of law. THIS IS UN-AMERICAN.

I hereby join the American Freedom Campaign to educate my neighbors about the threat and urge my representatives to confront and correct these abuses of our America.

That’s a sound statement, although it is not quite as specific as the American Freedom Agenda declaration, which asks candidates to pledge to:

* Prohibit military commissions whose verdicts are suspect except in places of active hostilities where a battlefield tribunal is necessary to obtain fresh testimony or to prevent anarchy;

* Prohibit the use of secret evidence or evidence obtained by torture or coercion in military or civilian tribunals;

* Prohibit the detention of American citizens as unlawful enemy combatants without proof of criminal activity on the President’s say-so;

* Restore habeas corpus for alleged alien enemy combatants, i.e., non-citizens who have allegedly participated in active hostilities against the United States, to protect the innocent;

* Prohibit the National Security Agency from intercepting phone conversations or emails or breaking and entering homes on the President’s say-so in violation of federal law;

* Empower the House of Representatives and the Senate collectively to challenge in the Supreme Court the constitutionality of signing statements that declare the intent of the President to disregard duly enacted provisions of bills he has signed into law because he maintains they are unconstitutional;

* Prohibit the executive from invoking the state secrets privilege to deny justice to victims of constitutional violations perpetrated by government officers or agents; and, establish legislative-executive committees in the House and Senate to adjudicate the withholding of information from Congress based on executive privilege that obstructs oversight and government in the sunshine;

* Prohibit the President from kidnapping, detaining, and torturing persons abroad in collaboration with foreign governments;

* Amend the Espionage Act to permit journalists to report on classified national security matters without fear of prosecution; and;

* Prohibit the listing of individuals or organizations with a presence in the United States as global terrorists or global terrorist organizations based on secret evidence.

Theoretically, Democratic and Republican candidates could sign on to both pledges. But let’s accept for the time being that two campaigns are needed to address the damage done by the Bush/Cheney administration to our one Constitution.

Let’s also accept that the conservative American Freedom Agenda has set the standard that the new American Freedom Campaign should adopt with regard to presidential candidates. When Republican candidates have refused to sign on to the American Freedom Agenda, the conservatives running that campaign have highlighted the fact with press statements that are sharply critical of the reluctant contenders.

After former Massachusetts Governor Mitt Romney begged off, Fein told the Boston Globe, “Mitt Romney’s ignorance of the Constitution’s checks and balances and protections against government abuses would have alarmed the Founding Fathers and their conservative philosophy.”

The American Freedom Campaign should adopt a similar standard. It is not enough to hail those candidates who agree to defend the Constitution. It is also necessary to condemn those who fail to do so.

After all, if candidates won’t commit to the Constitution during the campaign, it is a safe bet that they will not do so once they are in office.

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John Nichols’ new book is THE GENIUS OF IMPEACHMENT: The Founders’ Cure forRoyalism. Rolling Stone’s Tim Dickinson hails it as a “nervy, acerbic, passionately argued history-cum-polemic [that] combines a rich examination of the parliamentary roots and past use ofthe ‘heroic medicine’ that is impeachment with a call for Democraticleaders to ‘reclaim and reuse the most vital tool handed to us by thefounders for the defense of our most basic liberties.'”