Wednesday, December 10, 2014
War on Terror: The Great Foundation Destroyer
I have a co-worker who I sincerely believe means well, but he is a 'conservative' in the nastiest sense of the word. 'Conservatives' used to be the champions of individual liberty and the Constitution, but somehow, somewhere along the way, conservatives became the 'bomb the brown people' crowd. This co-worker, sad to say , is one of these. He is very much a 'law and order' Republican while claiming to be for 'limited government'. He, in essence advocates a police state in order to stop terrorists while decrying Obamacare. The government, according to him, cannot be trusted to run medical care, but can be trusted to run secret prisons and torture chambers and drone strikes and endless warfare. Discussions with him usually devolve into a frantic attempt to define words by what they actually mean rather than how they are used by the political spin doctors of the GOP. In his mind, Mr. Bush was the great savior of the republic; the man of the hour who looked evil in the face and didn't flinch. Instead Mr. Bush marched bold forward, vowing to stop terrorists wherever they may hide, and by any means necessary. Mr. Obama, by comparison, is a mealy-mouthed minister of half-hearted measures. Keep in mind that the policies of both of these men are virtually identical, and you can see why my head hurts if I talk to him for very long.
But I'm nothing if not stubborn and so I am am always looking for common ground. I am always searching for some sort of intellectual bridge by which he can be shown the insanity of his position and be led back to reality. So far my quest has been fruitless, but at least it makes me think about what I believe and why I believe it.
One of our more recent discussions had to do with accused terrorists and trials. He has taken the position that there are bad people who want to kill us and destroy our way of life and we cannot be bothered with the niceties of the law in the midst of this struggle. He seems to take the position that things like 'proof' and 'due process' are things you do when the stakes aren't quite so high. He advocates simply shooting bad guys on sight. He laments that they might be given access to courts and lawyers. He forsees a future in which the ACLU ( akin to Satan in his world-view) might get involved and bearded cartoonish bad guys are simply released free to kill again. He somehow thinks that prisons which hold on to rapists and murderers on a daily basis are insufficient to house terrorists. Like I said, it makes my head hurt.
But have you ever thought of WHY stuff like that is important? Why is it important to the very notion of justice that people, regardless of what they are accused of, receive due process?
The very idea of things like police and courts assume that the state has certain exclusive powers. with all apologies to my anarchist and minarchist friends, let's assume that Thomas Jefferson was right;"...That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...", Having instituted a government, it could then be argued that in order to fulfill it's role as the protector of rights, that government needs certain powers exclusive to itself. It has to be able to define crimes, investigate crimes, catch perpetrators and punish them. Of course the very act of handing such power to a man or a group of men is terrifying. No man or group of men can be trusted with the power to detain other men and put them in a cage for years No man or no group of men can be trusted with the absolute power of life or death over other men. That is the great paradox of government.
At least a partial solution to this is the idea of due process and jury trials. The idea is that , if the government accuses you of a crime, it has to make its case, not to itself, but to the populace via a jury of citizens. If this cross-section of the citizenry do not agree unanimously that the government has made it's case, then the accused goes free, and can not be charged again for that particular offense. The overall theme is one of openness. In due process, the accused is allowed to defend himself against the state, and his accusers are made to face him. In due process, there are no secret trials, no coerced confessions, and any and all evidence aligned against the accused, including the means by which evidence is gathered can be scrutinized by the public and assessed by the jury. It is, a huge balwarck against the abuse of the powers of arrest and incarceration. Things like this are the very building blocks of civilized man.
But not so on the war on terror. By using the language of terror, the state has swept away all safeguards to it's own power, oddly enough, to a cheering crowd of fist-pumping faux patriots who cry out "take away our liberty, but keep us safe from the shadows". The presumption of innocence is kicked away; we have people in Gitmo, but nobody knows for sure how or why they were captured. We're told we don't need to know. It's better that way. The presentation of evidence has been smashed to powder; an accusation is enough. The evidence against them, if it exists, is hidden under the thick veil of national security. There is no need for citizen review, we're told . After all, we're the state, and we have your best interests at heart.
My co-worker was vehement in his belief that every single person in Gitmo was arrested on the battlefield as they fired a weapon at the US military. I told him that not only could he not prove that, but that he couldn't find out for certain WHO is at Gitmo, HOW they were captured or WHY they are being held. He backpedalled and said that he was "certain" that we had the right guys. Fine, but how do you prove it if any and all evidence against the accused is hidden away?
It is curious to me that the powers that be are so terrified of their deeds being brought to light. They will move heaven and earth to conceal evidence against the supposedly guilty. They will 'classify' phone records, detention logs, video surveillance. What do they have to hide? Why is scrutiny something that must be avoided at all costs? I have a theory about this. They avoid scrutiny because they know that scrutiny and openness is the death blow to the monstrosity they have built.