With friends like that...

>> Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Well, there was a first, I'm ashamed to admit: following a link from a Glenn Greenwald post today, I found myself reading an editorial in The Weekly Standard by Thomas Joscelyn that actually prompted my brain to say, "Why did we rescue you people from Hitler, again?"

I am ashamed, of course. Aside from the fact that I have no doubt that many, probably most Britons aren't frothy reactionaries like Mr. Joscelyn, there's also the way that such a thought is immaturely tribalistic, and the way such a thought also demeans the brave efforts and sacrifices of our WWII allies. I always hate it when one of my fellow Americans boasts about how "we" won the Second World War, as if the Soviets didn't sacrifice millions on Eastern Front battlefields or the British didn't bravely persevere. Even the French get slighted by that worldview--Le Resistance did what it could with what it had. And of course, in the other theater, we had friends and useful allies against the Japanese in Southeast Asia and China who only became our enemies later. It was a global effort, a more-or-less united front against the tyranny of psychopaths, and no nation could have gone it alone, not even ours with the blood, steel and gold we poured into the effort. But I digress.

And still--if you read Mr. Joscelyn's rant, surely you'll understand how the small, dark thought slipped through the shadows of my mind. Surely you'll sympathize, even.

Mr. Greenwald, who works with the American Civil Liberties Union, does a wonderful job of addressing some of Mr. Joscelyn's factual errors, e.g. the fact that the people in the video that so offends Mr. Joscelyn's sensibilities are in that video because they were released from the Guantanamo prison camp. My personal flabbergasterization (my blog, my freedom to invent words, thank you) stems from Mr. Joscelyn's self-evident contempt for the rule of law. I mean, suppose that Mr. Joscelyn's claims are accurate--if so, surely there's no harm in giving detainees a day in court and proving to a trier of fact all the terrible things they've done? (Nor do I mean this last sentence to seem naïve: many of these detainees are there because they've done terrible things.)

The question is not one, as Mr. Joscelyn cretinously posits, of telling "us" from our enemies. The issue is that our basic social compact, at least in the United States (and I would have thought in Britain, the British Magna Carta being such an foundational inspiration for America's concept of rule-of-law), being built on the idea that the acts of the State against the individual must be monitored and kept in check. The courts, of course, being the primary institution we have for this purpose. There's nobody saying that if somebody is proven beyond a reasonable doubt in a court of law to be a criminal that they shouldn't suffer the full legal consequences of their actions; and at least some of us who are opposed to capital punishment at least respect the law and procedure that arrives at that point (i.e., if a suspected terrorist is lawfully tried, convicted, and sentenced to death, I am not happy that death is on the books as a punishment for any man or woman, but I accept that it is on the books and that such a sentence is being lawfully applied and carried out).

It is more than a little baffling that conservatives--people who, by definition, prefer tradition and order to modernity and change--have this utter lack of faith in American traditions and culture. If the cases against alleged terrorists is as strong as they're made out to be, surely they'll hold up in a court of law? Surely they'll survive scrutiny? And if the cases aren't as strong as that, then it seems to me that the failure isn't the system's but of those who arrested, detained, and/or prosecuted on inadequate pretenses.

I suppose one shouldn't expect Mr. Joscelyn to be overly-familiar with American organizations such as the ACLU. On the other hand, the British have a noble liberal tradition that we enshrined in our Constitution. In the 13th Century, Britons forced their King to agree:

No free man shall be seized or imprisoned, or stripped of his rights or possessions, or outlawed or exiled, or deprived of his standing in any other way, nor will we proceed with force against him, or send others to do so, except by the lawful judgement of his equals or by the law of the land.

To no one will we sell, to no one deny or delay right or justice.

These rights were enshrined by their American descendants. It's notable, as others have pointed out, that the Great Writ, Habeas Corpus, is guaranteed in the United States not by Amendment but by the primary text of the Constitution itself, in Article I, Section 9, and is only to be suspended on conditions of rebellion or invasion.

Former President George W. Bush once infamously said that terrorists "hate our way of life." It's evident to me that they're not alone, our allies and a significant chunk of our population hate it, too: they hate our freedoms, they hate our liberties, they hate our basic rights, among the most basic being the right not to be held without trial and the right to demand to be brought before a tribunal for an inquiry into the grounds on which one is being held. (These rights, under the ægis of Habeas, are even more fundamental than other basic rights--like the right to confront accusers, the right to see the evidence upon which a crime is alleged, and the right to have counsel on one's behalf.) I can understand, after a fashion, why America's enemies might hate our way of life--it is tautologically encompassed by the fact they're enemies, an enemy being someone who doesn't like you; an enemy might hate you for your beliefs, or your nose or the way you laugh, why not your way of life, while he's at it? But how do you explain somebody who's ostensibly your friend hating your way of life? One might like a friend but not care for some of his habits, but to violently reject something like his basic essence, what defines him? We Americans sing, "land of the free, home of the brave," and yet have people pretending to be our friends cravenly opposing the basic liberties that make us a free people and acting like it's for our own good that they trash the very qualities we use to identify and distinguish ourselves. Go figure.

With friends like Mr. Joscelyn, in other words, who needs enemies? Thank you for your opinion, sir; we'll take your Magna Carta and send for you if we need a nuisance (don't wait up).


Janiece Wednesday, November 18, 2009 at 12:55:00 PM EST  

It's evident to me that they're not alone, our allies and a significant chunk of our population hate it, too: they hate our freedoms, they hate our liberties, they hate our basic rights, among the most basic being the right not to be held without trial and the right to demand to be brought before a tribunal for an inquiry into the grounds on which one is being held.

Let's be honest, shall we? Our so-called "allies" don't hate those rights - they hate the fact that they must be evenly applied. As long as Habeas Corpus applies to them and theirs, then it's puppies and unicorns, but to apply those some standards to those who they perceive as "the enemy?" Well, we can't have THAT.

It's not racism, exactly, in spite of the fact that those who stand to lose their rights are all people of color. I suspect that anyone who was labeled an "enemy" would be treated to the same abrogation of their rights. Since they're not "like us," you see.

Okay, now I've thrown up in my mouth a little. Thanks a lot, Eric.

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