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Suffer little children

Glenn Greenwald’s blog Unclaimed Territory has become a must-read for me. He writes passionately, knowledgeably, and well about legal matters, and particularly the protection of civil rights.

His recent post is another excellent analysis of the way that people who should know better are complicit in the eroding of civil liberties and the rights protected in the constitution. Rather than merely being at the edge of the slippery slope, these people have slid completely down it and are now wallowing in the muck at the bottom.

Here are some key points of Greenwald’s essay to whet your appetite to read the whole thing:

There is a widespread, tacit assumption that no matter how apathetic and inattentive Americans become, there is still some line which they will not allow the Government to cross when it comes to exceeding or abusing the limits of government power. That assumption has taken a huge beating over the last four years, and is now in serious doubt.

Americans have sat by more or less passively by while this Administration detained American citizens and threw them into a military prison without charges being brought, without a trial, and without even allowing them access to a lawyer. Many are basically indifferent to revelations that the Bush Administration is eavesdropping on American citizens in secret and with no oversight of any kind. And worst of all, a sizable portion of the population is acquiescing to the fact that we have a President who was just discovered breaking the law, and rather than expressing shame or remorse once he was caught, has vowed to continue doing it based on the theory that he has the right to violate the law and that it’s for our own good.

It is sometimes hard to put one’s finger on exactly what motivates such passive acceptance of these obvious government abuses, but Jonah Goldberg puked up a paragraph last night in the Corner which really captures everything that is rancid and decaying in our country and which casts an ugly though illuminating light on all of this.

In his little item, Jonah was talking about – and, of course, defending – the strip searching of the 10-year-old girl in the case where Judge Alito ruled that the search warrant issued to the Police authorized searching of the girl. Jonah then went further – much further – and defended all strip-searching of all children, even without a warrant, whenever the Police thinks the kids’ parents are “drug dealers”:

STRIP SEARCHES [Jonah Goldberg]
I understand the need for following the procedural niceties, but as a plain moral common sense issue, if you are a drug dealer and keep drugs on the premises with your child, you get zero-point-zero sympathy from me if your kids are searched, warrant or no. It may be wrong for the cops to do it. But you are not a victim for choosing a life where you can rationally expect to expose your kids to far greater risks than a search by a polite cop. The kid’s a victim — of bad parents.

….
Thanks to the ceaseless fear-mongering of this Administration, we are becoming – excuse the grotesque imagery – a Nation of Jonah Goldbergs, scared and lazy creatures who sit around believing that the Government is justified – even obligated – to act literally without constraint against the Bad People, the ones who are deemed to be Bad not pursuant to any “procedural niceties” but simply by the unchecked decree of the Government. These Jonah Goldbergs love to talk tough. But they are repulsively coddled and effete, whining about every perceived petty injustice which affects them but breezily endorsing the most limitless abuses of others, as long as the “others” seem sufficiently demonized and far enough away.

It is truly nauseating to watch the basic principles of our country, which have preserved both liberty and stability with unprecedented brilliance over the last 200 years, be inexorably whittled away and treated like petty nuisances by the depraved Jonah Goldbergs among us. It is a mindset based on a truly toxic brew of glib self-absorption, sickly laziness and profound ignorance, and it is being easily manipulated by an Administration which is demanding – and acquiring – more and more power in exchange for coddling and protecting the little Jonah Goldbergs of the world.

I think that what differentiates people who value and fight to protect constitutional protections from those who are willing to have them compromised is whether you are willing and able to imagine yourself in the situation of the people at the receiving end of this treatment and how you would feel if it happened to you and your family and friends, even if you are a person who has never done anything that could be even remotely described as of questionable legality. As Greenwald says:

What makes Jonah’s post conclusively reflective of not only his ideological corruption but also his severe character flaw is that Jonah would never be quite as breezy or casual about lawless strip searches if it was him or his daughter being subjected to them.

But Jonah is convinced that abuses of this sort will never happen to him and he therefore doesn’t care that they happen to others. To the contrary, he eagerly wants other people – the alleged, suspected “drug dealers” and “terrorists” and other Bad People – to be subjected to those abuses because he thinks it will protect him from bad things. That’s why I described his thinking as a mindset based on fear and petty selfishness. He is willing to give up and even denigrate the most basic liberties of our country because he thinks he doesn’t need them and would be better off without them.

Notice that Goldberg’s acceptance of what must have been a traumatic experience for the child is because of an allegation against the father. In this, Goldberg’s position is similar to that of John Yoo, now a professor of law at the University of California at Berkeley and before that a former deputy assistant attorney general in the office of legal counsel of the Department of Justice where he wrote a memo on September 25, 2001 justifying Presidential power to do practically anything he wants, which has since been interpreted to include the torturing of captives around the world. His views seem to have got even worse after going into academia.

Listen to this exchange in an debate with Douglass Cassel at the University of Notre Dame (audio available):

Cassel: If the president deems that he’s got to torture somebody, including by crushing the testicles of the person’s child, there is no law that can stop him?

Yoo: No treaty


Cassel: Also no law by Congress – that is what you wrote in the August 2002 memo…


Yoo: I think it depends on why the President thinks he needs to do that.

So there you are. People like Goldberg and Yoo are not only happy to acquiesce in the torture of adults who are suspects, they are even willing to have a suspect’s children be brutalized, as long as the President thinks it is a good idea. Yes, we are truly a nation that values families.

In a speech yesterday to The American Constitution Society and The Liberty Coalition (full transcript here), former Vice President Al Gore made the following point:

Can it be true that any president really has such powers under our Constitution? If the answer is “yes” then under the theory by which these acts are committed, are there any acts that can on their face be prohibited? If the President has the inherent authority to eavesdrop, imprison citizens on his own declaration, kidnap and torture, then what can’t he do?

The Dean of Yale Law School, Harold Koh, said after analyzing the Executive Branch’s claims of these previously unrecognized powers: “If the President has commander-in-chief power to commit torture, he has the power to commit genocide, to sanction slavery, to promote apartheid, to license summary execution.”

Whatever happened to that quaint notion that this is “a government of laws, not men?”

POST SCRIPT: Other examples of moral courage

Last week I wrote about Hugh Thompson, Jr. For more about his rescue of Vietnamese civilians from slaughter, and others in the US military like him who spoke out at what they saw as wrong actions, and how badly they were treated because of their courageous acts, see here. Clancy Sigal writes:

They include Army specialist Joseph Darby, of the 372d Military Police Company, who reported on his fellow soldiers who were torturing prisoners at Abu Ghraib prison. His family has received threats to their personal safety in their Maryland hometown. And Captain Ian Fishback, the 82d Airborne West Pointer, who served combat tours in Iraq and Afghanistan, and tried vainly for seventeen months to persuade superiors that detainee torture was a systematic, and not a ‘few bad apples’, problem inside the U.S. military. In frustration, he wrote to Senator McCain, which led directly to McCain’s anti-torture amendment. I wouldn’t want to bet on the longevity of Captain Fishback’s military career.

Thompson’s death also reminded me of Captain Lawrence Rockwood, of the 10th Mountain Division. Ten years ago, Rockwood was deployed to Haiti where, against orders, he personally investigated detainee abuse at the National Penitentiary in the heart of Port au Prince. He was court-martialed for criticizing the U.S. military’s refusal to intervene, and kicked out of the Army. While still on duty, he kept a photograph on his desk of a man he greatly admired. It was of Captain Hugh Thompson.

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