Sunday, January 31, 2010

Guarding the Wrong Gate

Glenn Greenwald reminds us how far we have gone toward destruction of what we once held up as essential Americanism. He quotes the terrorism policy of the man whom we considered perhaps the president furthest to the right ever, Ronald Reagan:

"Another important measure we have developed in our overall strategy is applying the rule of law to terrorists. Terrorists are criminals. They commit criminal actions like murder, kidnapping, and arson, and countries have laws to punish criminals. So a major element of our strategy has been to delegitimize terrorists, to get society to see them for what they are -- criminals -- and to use democracy’s most potent tool, the rule of law against them."

Of course we have gone so far right of Reagan that I’m not sure we can’t legitimately be called fascist. Certainly we are well into the realm of Banana Republicanism.

It was also Ronald Reagan who signed the Convention Against Torture in 1988 -- after many years of countless, horrific Terrorist attacks -- which not only declared that there are "no exceptional circumstances whatsoever" justifying torture, but also required all signatory countries to "ensure that all acts of torture are offences under its criminal law" and -- and Reagan put it -- "either to prosecute torturers who are found in its territory or to extradite them to other countries for prosecution."


In the wake of extreme political pressure, mostly from Democrats, the White House just forced Eric Holder to retreat on his decision to try Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in New York City, and numerous Democrats now appear prepared to join with the GOP to cut-off funding for civilian trials altogether, forcing the administration to try all Terrorists in military commissions or just hold them indefinitely.


The Washington Post is publishing demands from former Bush CIA and NSA Chief Michael Hayden -- who presided over the blatantly criminal warrantless eavesdropping program -- that Obama must even more closely model his Terrorism policies on Bush's, as though the architects of Bush's illegal policies are our Guiding Lights when deciding what to do now. Even Obama's own top intelligence official criticized the Justice Department's decision to treat Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab as what he is -- a criminal -- and accord him normal due process.


Merely advocating what Reagan explicitly adopted as his policy -- "to use democracy’s most potent tool, the rule of law against" Terrorists -- is now the exclusive province of civil liberties extremists. In those rare cases when Obama does what Reagan's policy demanded [...] he is attacked as being "Soft on Terror" by Democrats and Republicans alike. And the mere notion that we should prosecute torturers (as Reagan bound the U.S. to do) [...] is now the hallmark of a Far Leftist Purist. That's how far we've fallen, how extremist our political consensus has become.


Indeed, what was once the most basic and defining American principle -- the State [must] charge someone with a crime and give them a fair trial in order to imprison them -- has been magically transformed into Leftist extremism.

Greenwald goes on to compare our current anti-democratic, and clearly illegal, methods with other countries.

Countries which have been victimized by horrific terrorist attacks over the last several years -- Britain, Spain, India, Indonesia -- have tried and convicted the perpetrators as criminals in their civilian court system, right in their normal courthouses, in the heart of the cities that were the target of the attacks. These countries -- which aren't protected by oceans and (in the case of India and Indonesia) aren't bordered by friendly countries -- didn't invent special military commission to abridge due process or simply imprison the accused without a trial. They didn't pour water down their throats, freeze them, disorient them with sleep deprivation, or hang them naked from the ceiling.

And not only is all this in contrast to what we once held to, but to what we still hypocritically proclaim, the outrageousness of which makes my head spin. We clearly have jumped straight into a futuristic dark political bizarro world once only known in countries we demonized or imagined in the political fiction of the likes of Huxley, Vonnegut and Orwell.

The U.S. has, for decades, harshly criticized Libya as one of the most tyrannical and uncivilized regimes on the planet. In 2008, the State Department not only amazingly condemned that country for "torture" (which included such U.S.-embraced methods as "depriving detainees of sleep, food, and water; hanging by the wrists; suspending from a pole inserted between the knees and elbows . . . . threatening with dog attacks"), but also for indefinitely detaining people without trials.


Consistent with those abuses, Libya just announced its new policy for how it will treat accused Al Qaeda Terrorists -- a policy that should sound quite familiar to all Americans:

Libya will hold up to 300 al Qaeda members in jail indefinitely after they have completed their prison terms to stop them staging fresh attacks, Libyan leader Muammar Gaddafi said on Thursday.


At least Libya seems to be indefinitely imprisoning those who were at one time convicted; the U.S., by contrast, is doing so with regard to detainees who have never been charged, let alone convicted, of anything.

When I was a youngster in school during the late 50’s and early 60’s, I had a teacher who was fond of repeatedly frightening us by saying that if we were not vigilant in our stand against Russia, we would go to sleep one night a free country and wake up the next morning communist. We didn’t know what communists really were, but they were defined to us as torturers who would imprison us at the drop of a hat or the word of a neighbor who didn’t like us.

Aside from the need to stand against Russia, and the definition of communism, she seems to have been quite prophetic. While we were being vigilant as to the Russian threat, we weren’t paying attention to the Americans.

....but hey, do what you will anyway.

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