Wednesday, November 16, 2005
Mothers of the Disappeared
Nadezhda takes on the issue of torture and the deprivation of habeas corpus rights with a slightly different point of emphasis. Her post does much to augment my arguments about the sacrifice of our moral authority, and my arguments alone leave out much of what needs to be said. In many ways, she gets to the heart of the matter - why this move could be one of the most damaging blows to our image in the world yet dealt.
In some ways I find the manner in which our legislators are dealing with the habeus corpus matter even more troubling than the highly emotional issue of torture. When considering the rights of a prisoner to challenge indefinite detention without charges, we're not talking about the hard task of drawing lines between acceptable and unacceptable behavior based on modern standards of morality. No, we're talking about something far more fundamental -- a core principle defining the limits on executive power in any liberal political system, regardless of form -- democracy, constitutional monarchy, etc. You know, Magna Carta and all that. Ironically (or should I say tragically), the people who are pushing for a derogation of this core principle are the same conservatives who are on the great global crusade to bring freedom to the oppressed. Heaven knows how they define "freedom" (or for that matter, how they can call themselves "conservatives," given their cavalier approach to ancient legal and constitutional tradition).This is truly a sad moment for us all. Whether it be the reckless deficits careening out of control on the eve of the crunch of the Boomer retirements, the inexcusably myopic inattention to (or exacerbation of) pressing environmental issues, the ramifications of a policy in Iraq that will likely enable a terrorist blowback to rival and eclipse that from Afghanistan in the 1980's and 1990's, or the almost incurable wounds being dealt to our image and standing in the world through the adoption of policies that mimic the foulest of dictators and despotisms, it will take generations of Americans to undo the hurt left by the Bush Administration. History will not look kindly on the players involved in this tragedy. But that is the coldest of comforts.
I agree with Eric that all of this represents a terrible failure to live up to the standards America preaches to others, a failure which undermines US foreign policy. There is, of course, the erosion of "moral authority" in a broad sense that Eric points to. But the hypocrisy of "do as I say, not as I do" also produces concrete damages to US interests.[...]
The damage to the US is not limited, however, to being seen as hypocrites. The Senate's habeus corpus political stunt will be viewed by much of the world as simply part of a cynical pattern, which includes the failure by Congress to tackle the practices of "black sites," "ghost detainees" and "extraordinary renditions." Much of the world is concluding, reluctantly or not, that Americans have abandoned their basic principles and now tacitly endorse the "disappearing" of people by the US government.
Perhaps Americans don't understand that "the disappeared" is the most powerful symbol of political oppression across much of the developing world -- the very regions where the BushAdmin is conducting its freedom crusade against tyrants and extremists, not only in the Middle East but also in regions like Latin America. Perhaps Americans are simply too insulated from what goes on beyond their borders.
In order to understand how profoundly "the disappeared" resonates as an idea, perhaps one has to have lived or worked in the developing world, watched closely the politics of countries after authoritarian or totalitarian regimes have been overthrown, or followed carefully the various "reconciliation commissions" that often accompany attempts to democratize. Although abusive treatment and torture of political prisoners is usually an issue in these countries, their biggest hurdle is often the trauma associated with massacres of civilians (usually by paramilitaries) and the thousands of people who simply have disappeared into an opaque system run or sanctioned by the authorities.
America is connecting itself with practices that are associated, in the minds of hundreds of millions of people, with the most odious of tyrants and the worst of authoritarian regimes. [emphasis added] No matter how skillful US public diplomacy may be in the future, it's going to take an enormous amount of effort and considerable time to overcome this self-inflicted damage.