Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Bush's Little Elves

With the stage hands busying themselves with the chore of taking down the elaborate set erected as the backdrop to John "Moderate Maverick" McCain's starring turn in the Republican's latest Kabuki theater release, the real work is going on behind the scenes. After McCain, Warner, Graham, Specter and the rest of the "sensible" Republicans strutted across the stage, fretting about the sanctity of the Geneva Conventions and the moral repugnance of torture - showing a brave and defiant face to the cameras in contrast to the morally bankrupt Bush administration - they proceeded to sign on the Faustian dotted line to be heard from no more. All sound and fury, signifying nothing.

But it gets worse. Not only did the McCain-wing endorse a radical departure from legal norms that have served this country for centuries, but with that victory in hand, the Bush administration and its Congressional Republican allies really went for the jugular of the blind lady of justice [emphasis mine throughout]:

Lawmakers and administration officials announced last week that they had reached accord on the plan for the detention and military trials of suspected terrorists, and it is scheduled for a vote this week. But in recent days the Bush administration and its House allies successfully pressed for a less restrictive description of how the government could designate civilians as "unlawful enemy combatants," the sources said yesterday. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of negotiations over the bill.

This is a diligent, fastidious group when it comes to stripping away human rights. It looks as if Bush will direct his efforts over the next two years to the task of leaving no rights behind. If only Republicans brought an iota of this zeal and industriousness to the task of governing, our nation might be in a better position along numerous fronts. Here's a look at the particulars, in all their ignominity:

As a result, human rights experts expressed concern yesterday that the language in the new provision would be a precedent-setting congressional endorsement for the indefinite detention of anyone who, as the bill states, "has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States" or its military allies.

The definition applies to foreigners living inside or outside the United States and does not rule out the possibility of designating a U.S. citizen as an unlawful combatant. It is broader than that in last week's version of the bill, which resulted from lengthy, closed-door negotiations between senior administration officials and dissident Republican senators. That version incorporated a definition backed by the Senate dissidents: those "engaged in hostilities against the United States."

I want to focus on a facet of this story mentioned in the second paragraph. Therein lies the revelation that these radical new legal provisions could also apply to American citizens. If the Democrats are looking for an angle to attack this legislation, that is certainly one that should be pressed. It's one thing to torture and lock up a bunch of dark-skinned foreigners, with their heretical religion, latent violent urges, foreign languages and bizarre customs - or so, some may be thinking in a typically tribalistic and self centered way that characterizes human nature all too frequently.

But it is another thing entirely to contemplate locking up American men and women, and condemning them to be tortured for the rest of their lives without so much as a hearing to contest such detention. Granted, there is a tendency on the part of some to hold the position that even though the possibility exists, surely the government would never actually accuse "them," and that, relatedly, as long as they do nothing wrong, they'll escape such charges. Still, I think this ups the ante considerably. It shouldn't need to come to this, but I'll take what I can get at this point.

The possibility that Americans may react with more outrage if they are made to understand that they themselves might be "disappeared" reminds of a story I cited a while back:

A Los Angeles filmmaker [Cyrus Kar] who was imprisoned in Iraq for 55 days sued Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld and other high-ranking military officials Friday, alleging that his detention violated his civil rights, the law of nations and the Geneva Convention.

Kar, a U.S. citizen and Navy veteran, went to Iraq 14 months ago to make a documentary film about Cyrus the Great, the Persian king who wrote the world's first human rights charter.

On May 17, 2005, the taxi he was riding in was stopped at a Baghdad checkpoint and authorities found components in the trunk that are commonly used in improvised explosive devices. The taxi driver told military authorities that Kar and his cameraman knew nothing about the items, which the driver said he was bringing to his brother-in-law.

While in confinement, the suit states, Kar was at various times hooded, restrained "in painful flexi-cuffs" and "repeatedly threatened, taunted and insulted" by U.S. soldiers.

At one point, according to the suit, a U.S. soldier slammed Kar's head into a concrete wall at Abu Ghraib.

It's Karr's epiphany that interests me though:

What happened to him in Iraq was "a life-altering experience," Kar said. "I am not a left-wing liberal. I agree with many of George Bush's policies."

But, he added, "I don't think the Constitution has to be gutted to achieve our objectives" in the war on terrorism. "I felt it was my duty as an American to take a stand for the constitutional rights guaranteed to all Americans."

The hope is that first hand experience with Stalin-esque tactics would not be a prerequisite to marshalling the electoral and political will of the American public.

Consider, also, this warning: according to the proposed changes, such indefinite detention and abuse could be prompted by the frighteningly vague charge of materially supporting hostilities against military allies of the United States. Which nations, exactly, comprise the "military allies" subset? What activities would be included under the rubric of "supporting hostilities"?

Would that include US citizens protesting the actions of the Israeli government? Is it limited to nations in the coalitions in Afghanistan and Iraq? How far away from a simple protest does the "supporting hostilies" standard require one's actions to deviate before being subjected to a lifetime imprisonment without trial - with extra-helpings of torture with each meal (at least the meals they deign to give you)? What about contributing to certain Islamic charities that may be secretly ciphoning money to extremist causes? Is that enough?

Not only does this standard have several layers of vagueness, but the only adjudicator of the correctness of its application will be those that capture, seize, arrest and accuse. Just ask the prosecutor, and he'll tell you if the defendant is guilty or not.

Yet, some people still intend to vote for Republicans in November. It boggles the mind.

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