Friday, September 29, 2024
By Steven L. Taylor

Via WaPo (House Approves Warrantless Wiretap Law) we get some quotes from House leadership that features the worst kind of “reasoning” in the current debate about how to deal with detainees and how to foster national security.

First we have Speaker Haster:

After the House voted 253-168 to set rules on tough interrogations and military tribunal proceedings, Speaker Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., was even more critical than Boehner.

“Democrat Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi and 159 of her Democrat colleagues voted today in favor of more rights for terrorists,” Hastert said in a statement. “So the same terrorists who plan to harm innocent Americans and their freedom worldwide would be coddled, if we followed the Democrat plan. “

There is a twofold problem here. They are both quite common in this discussion. The first is the fundamental assumption that every single person that we capture is automatically a terrorist (i.e., that suspicion equals guilt). This is not necessarily the case. It is wholly possible that some we have captured were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or that we made some other mistake. A corollary of the first problem is to assume that everyone we capture is equivalent to Khalid Sheik Muhammad and his ilk. They aren’t. However, many speak as if every single person in our custody is the equivalent of a major lieutenant of Osama bin Laden and that they hold treasure troves of information and they are each to be seen as proxies for the 9/11 hijackers.

A second major flaw here is the notion that having rules and procedures that acknowledges that we are dealing with human being here is “coddling” anyone. Indeed, the ability to recognize that your enemy is a) a human being, and b) perhaps not as guilty as you suspect that he is, isn’t coddling, it is due process and it a morally superior position that we should aspire to have, not disparage.

And, as I noted in my post last night about suspending habeas corpus, the bottom line is that we are talking not about dramatic actions that governments undertake during a specific crisis when the hot war rages, but rather the codification of actions that will be undertaken when passions have cooled and the immediacy of the crisis has faded and when cooler heads ought to prevail.

Look, within our own criminal justice system we frequently afford rights to the worst of the worst (and people we are 99% are guilty). We do so because it is the right thing to do and because such mechanisms protect the innocent. There are criminals who deserve to be shot on sight, no doubt. However, we don’t do that because it violates our basic values as a democracy.

I am not arguing that we should treat captured combatants the same as we treat criminal defendants. However, there are parallels here in terms of how we should behave.

Consider: if the enemy is shot and killed during battle, that is acceptable. However, if once you have the enemy in your control and you bind him and shoot him in the back of the head, we find that highly unacceptable. Why? Either way he is dead by the same bullet. However, we clearly consider those circumstances to be different.

As such, once you have people in your custody, the manner of treatment matters.

I would note, as I have before, that if we, as a major element of our foreign policy, are going to promote democratic goverance as something that other states should adopt, then we have to be a model of that form of government. If we are going to say that as soon as we feel threatened that we are willing to toss values out the window, then the message being sent is power and security trumps democratic values. How is that going to incentivize non-democracies in insecure parts of the world to adopt democratic norms and values? Isn’t the real lesson that we are teaching is that what really is matters is order and power ?

Another example of Leadership and dramatic rhetoric:

“The Democrats’ irrational opposition to strong national security policies that help keep our nation secure should be of great concern to the American people,” Majority Leader John Boehner, R-Ohio, said in a statement after the bill passed 232-191.

A true sign of serious argumentation: tagging those who disagree with you as being “irrational.”

But, then again, it’s election season and majority status is on the line, so why not trivialize the debate?

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4 Responses to “The Heart of the Problem”

  • el
  • pt
    1. Ratoe Says:

      The first is the fundamental assumption that every single person that we capture is automatically a terrorist (i.e., that suspicion equals guilt). This is not necessarily the case. It is wholly possible that some we have captured were in the wrong place at the wrong time, or that we made some other mistake.

      Come on! The rule of law is so “Old Europe.” Now that we have Congressional approval for torture, hopefully those “activist judges” that Bush hates so much wont raise another ruckas.

    2. SoloD Says:

      The problem is that you can’t sum up your argument into a single 10 second sound bite. “Respect the process” isn’t equal to “Coddling terrorist.”

    3. LaurenceB Says:

      I’ve given this some thought and I’ve decided that I respectfully disagree. I think, in fact, it would be rather easy to come up with slogan for our side that was equally as vacuous and disengenuous as “coddling the terrorists”. For example, had Congressmen opposed to the amendment chosen to do so, they could have labelled this bill “The Torture Bill”. I think that would have worked well. That they did not, seems to indicate that they are either not as imaginative as the folks on the far right, or that they have higher principles. I choose to believe the latter, but I could be wrong.

    4. randy B Says:

      I think there is a third explanation that blends 5/6 of your first option and 1/6 of your second. In principle, the Republican detractors know perfectly well that the bill as passed is anti-thetical to all we have been raised to believe America justice represents. And while they wanted to go on record condemning torture and secret evidence leading to the execution of prisoners, they ultimately lacked the backbone and imagination to stand for principle, without deference to their party’s electoral prospects and its considerable support for their own political hides. How incredibly disappointing this is who we have become. Hopefully the American electorate will wake up (and care).

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