Today The Wall Street Journal is arguing against due process for military captives.
In today's left-hand opinion column I was greeted on my morning flight from Juneau, Alaska, to Seattle, Washington, by the following statement:
Last month's foiled plot to blow up 10 airliners over the Atlantic showed the importance of intelligence and surveillance to the anti-terror fight. By extension, it also showed the need for a system to prosecute captured terrorists that doesn't require compromising intelligence sources and methods. But as Congress and the President return to work on legislation authorizing military tribunals, the usual suspects at outfits such as Human Rights Watch are saying such tribunals would create "a travesty of a fair trial." They claim anything short of the guarantees American soldiers get before courts martial will fall afoul of the Constitution and international law.
At issue is whether or not an accused prisoner has the right to understand what he is detained for and the evidence being used against him, when the evidence may include secret military intelligence.
The Journal goes on to say:
...Finally, Administration critics allege that the tribunal bill would rewrite existing Geneva Convention prohibitions against "cruel, inhuman, and degrading" treatment of detainees. In fact, it would merely offer some substantive guidance as to the meaning of those vague terms.
Yes, these words appeared in a respected American periodical.
As my missive is also an opinion piece, I will eschew journalistic integrity when I say that we can find similar "redefinitions" of the Geneva Convention in the actions of the Nazi party during WWII. The Bush Administration spin machine spews through the mouths of the sitting public servants the characterization of the "War on Terror" as an effort similar to the legendary fight against the Axis in the 1940's. The idea here is that if they can stir deep-seated fears and hatred, and raise memories of Audie Murphy and Gregory Peck flying a bomber, then maybe the whole country will get behind their desire to continue random attacks on despotic middle eastern nations that have nothing directly to do with the current terror threat (other than we have given them justification for their white-hot hatred of American policy, and all of us).
It no longer matters to me whether or not the Iraq war is justified as part of our response to 3000 dead in lower Manhattan. That we may have been justified in destroying that nation's high-school age generation and their continued ability to self-govern is eclipsed, in my mind, by the government's unveiled attacks on the American populace and American civil rights.
Let's think about some of the characteristics of the fascism Rumsfeld, Cheney, and Bush claim to be fighting on our behalf:
- Restriction (eradication) of the right of free speech including
demonization of critics as criminals, and encouraging public outrage toward those who dissent
- State control of the free press
- Distribution of propaganda
- Establishment of domestic secret police
- Control of domestic public travel
- Blurring domestic and international intelligence gathering
- Monitoring domestic communication
- Profiling-prejudging domestic population segments based on race
- Unprompted invasion of targeted nation states
- Utilizing torture as a means to collect intelligence
- Utilizing torture as a means to inflict fear on an enemy
- Suspension of human/civil rights for those accused under special circumstances
- Unfettered, vocal belief in the support of God and history for all activities
Where in the world at this point in time are the citizens of a nation performing all these acts accused by its government of being confused, misdirected, and unpatriotic, for drawing such parallels?
Yeah, but it's okay because we know we're the good guys. We've got Gregory Peck and Jimmy Stewart fighting on our side. They've got those swarthy no-name actors who make less than scale (because they're undocumented).
We're the "E Pluribus Unum" guys. The "One Nation Under God" guys.
When we torture people, it doesn't hurt all that much.
Everyone knows they're the good guys. And as a good student of history, like Donald Rumsfeld suggests I should be, I know that populations of fundamentally good people have talked themselves into all sorts of evil, and have rationalized it based on fear and uncertainty and need to control the uncontrollable.
Ask anyone who had relatives at Manzanar.
But in the spirit of debate, I will make two outrageous suggestions:
Outrageous suggestion #1: When the American government starts performing and attempting to justify actions identified by Thomas Jefferson in the Declaration of Independence as reasons for separation from Britian - when we cannot justify our actions through application of our own constitution, then we should stop.
Outrageous suggestion #2: If the "War on Terror" turns America into a fascist state, then it isn't worth winning.
Outrageous conclusion: this "war", declared on an ill-defined and diffuse enemy who has as its goal our extermination and has at its disposal at least some means to begin to execute that goal, is only worth winning if our fundamental values are preserved. If the America that emerges after the "defeat" of terrorism is one in which the rights of the citizens are curtailed by a domestic police state, and if the tenets of basic human rights are ignored in the act of self-preservation, then we have become Germany under Hitler. Chile under Pinochet.
Not one of us wants to live under those conditions. Not the left. Not the right. Not the Christians or the Muslims or the Jews or the Taoists or the Hindus or the Eckankars.
So let's stop heading in that direction. And it starts with reasonable people expressing their dissent and displeasure that we are exhibiting the stirrings of fascism - and irrespective of the Bush Administration's desire you shut up: you are unpatriotic if you do, and that is indeed written into the foundation of America.
Life would be easier for Donald Rumsfeld if his critics shut up. He's said so on a number of different occasions, including in the press today. He suggests that criticizing his failure to achieve success at any of his military ventures is the same as providing military intelligence to our enemies.
Because apparently, our enemies wouldn't know Donald had screwed up unless we pointed it out.
I feel the same way. If the teachers who gave me crummy grades in high school would have just got with the program and given me grade As, I would have had a much better GPA and could have got on with making my living without having to put so much effort into interviewing with prospective employers. But because they gave me negative feedback, I have found it more difficult to get higher paying jobs, and also, I've developed high blood pressure and high cholesterol. Also, my big screen television is broken. And Visa charges me too much interest on my purchases. Oh, and my dog pissed on the rug.
All because they had to give me those crummy grades. They were clearly confused about what was good for my future.
Reasonable conclusion #1: It is possible to prevent major acts of terrorism on American soil without sacrificing our fundamental values as a nation. That is, to observe basic human rights. To observe due process. To reserve the right to strike until the last minute, and to never order a preemptive strike.
This is what separates us from dogs. This is what makes us the greatest nation in the world. Stooping to the level of criminals doesn't make us safer. It makes us previously good people who have become criminals.
Why has every prior administration of the United States understood this, at least to some degree?
I wanted to say I thought it was possible to win the "War on Terrorism", but I don't even know what that means, and I have never heard a logical definition put forth by my government except that winning it had something to do with creating total anarchy in Iraq. So I am deciding it means that nothing like 9/11 happens again on American soil, though in a free society , it is impossible to avoid all possible danger. Someone could always drive a car into a crowd and set himself on fire. We can't stop someone from taking a kitchen knife into a subway car and stabbing random people. We probably can't even stop someone from synthesizing poison gas in his house and letting it loose in a crowded theater.
But you know - we've never been able to stop these things. And ridding the world of all our enemies is not possible. So we have to live with some degree of freedom and uncertainty for the foreseeable future. Remaining free in an uncertain world is the American way. When we are attacked, we strike back, as we did in Afghanistan. Then we bring our fighting force home. We remain alert, and go back about our business.
That's pretty much it, even though it's not what anyone wants to hear.
I can only presume the reason the Wall Street Journal believes we should deny war prisoners due process and subject them to torture is they share the same disdain for the American public displayed by the Bush Administration.
Like Keith Richards once said about his adoring public: They eat any shit we crap out.
Outrageous Suggestion #3: we should stop.