Saturday, January 24, 2009

So this week, in his first week in office, President Obama* signed an executive order stating that the detention center at Guantanamo Bay was to be closed in a year. There were immediate protests.

A few, from the very far left, complained that a year was a long time . Well, duh. Due process, which is what is needed here, takes time. You can't simply dismantle something as large as Gitmo, and arrange for the proper disposition of the detainees.

Some of these people are dangerous. Very dangerous. They need to be treated as such.
Some of these people are not dangerous. They need to be treated as such.

Figuring out which is which will take time and the operation of law, the same as it would for any criminal.

The other protest comes from the right, and can be best summed up by the Fox News Headline : "Do you want terrorists in your backyard?"

Funny thing, that. We already have terrorists in our backyard. Remember Eric Rudolph, guilty of abortion clinic bombings and the centennial park bombings? And then there are the Oklahoma City conspirators. We had Timothy McVeigh up until we executed him. Terry Nichols is serving life. Mike Fortier, who testified against McViegh and Nichols at trial for the Oklahoma City bombings, got only twelve years in prison. We have the Unibomber, Ted Kaszinki, and the terrorists behind the 1993 World Trade Center bombings.

We have serial killers. We have mass murderers. We have serial rapists. Somehow we are able to accommodate all these very violent criminals in our system, and keep the rest of us safe.

That's what maximum security prisons are for.

In any case, the purpose of Gitmo was so that suspects could be rounded up and kept under lock and key without due process of law, without the benefits of either the Geneva Conventions or habeas corpus. The Bush Administrati0on fought tooth and nail to delay actually letting any of the detainees have their day in court. Not that they didn't have enablers: the Military Commissions Act passed by Congress in 2006 stripped detainees of some of their most basic rights. (The Military Commissions Act was struck down by a 5-4 vote in the Supreme Court in June, 2008.)

Consider the case of Mohammed El Gharani, who was 14 years old when he was captured in Pakistan some seven years ago. He has been at Guantanamo since then. The U.S. government, according to the findings of U.S. District Judge Richard J. Leon, had relied mainly upon statements from two other Guantanamo prisoners in determining that El Gharani was an enemy combatant. These statements, the judge found, were inconsistent, unverified, and not backed up by any other evidence. In short, the sort of thing that would have been tossed out of court had the young man been tried in the U.S. seven years ago when he was first brought in to Gitmo. Judge Leon ordered his release and for the government to the make all arrangements forthwith.

Seven years. Seven years based on unverified reports by other prisoners already in the hands of people who have admitted to using "enhanced interrogation techniques." I do have a concern that this young man is dangerous -- that we have radicalized him by his detention and treatment. That does not mean that we can continue to ignore our ideals, just that we may have increased risk to ourselves.

And then there is the case of the Chinese Uighurs. The Uighurs are a religious minority in China. They cannot be sent back there because they would be persecuted. The Justice Department doesn't want them sent to the United States. so they sit in detention at Gitmo, in limbo. The government claims that they would be a danger to the United States because they have had military weapons training.

So have many members of white supremacist groups. And, as my husband said, "we made the mess, we need to clean it up." And how can we ask other countries to take detainees if we won't ourselves?

In his inaugural address, Barack Obama said:
As for our common defense, we reject as false the choice between our safety and our ideals. Our founding fathers ... our found fathers, faced with perils we can scarcely imagine, drafted a charter to assure the rule of law and the rights of man, a charter expanded by the blood of generations. Those ideals still light the world, and we will not give them up for expedience's sake.
Nobody said it was going to be easy.

*Hee hee. The joy of saying that has not worn off yet.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

I don't know about you, but one of the things I am looking forward to with the new administration is the capacity to feel outrage over my government again.

For years, the Bush administration committed atrocity after atrocity. There was torture, there was the wiretapping without warrant of members of the public and the military, there was the blatant stifling of science in the name of political and religious agendas, there was the outing of a career CIA operative for political revenge, there was the politicization of the Justice Department and other parts of the administration which should never have been politicized, and I could go on. The Supreme Court had its share of bad decisions -- the Ledbetter decision chief among them -- and Congress, too, disappointed mightily, most notably in its refusal to hold people accountable.

After a while, it began to be too much. Another outrage against conscience, law, or common sense on the part of the President, the Court, or the Congress, elicited an emotional response of "Yeah, it happened again. So what else is new?" Burned out and jaded, I suffered from "outrage fatigue." When you expect absolutely the worst from your government, nothing it does can come as a surprise or a shock.

But this is a new day, to use a hackneyed phrase. I have hope and expectations for and from my new president, and from the new Congress. (I view the Supreme Court as a lost cause, at least for now.) I have standards they need to meet.

They are going to fail in some of them. In some cases it will be a difference of opinion, in some cases because I think they are just plain wrong, and in some cases dangerously wrong. Indeed, there are already one or two areas where I see the Administration heading off in what I think is the wrong direction. (Afghanistan? Really? And in a rather more trivial matter, we could discuss Rick Warren. Or not.)

Over the next four to eight years, I fully expect to be outraged by some of the decisions made by my government. It is an institution made by man, with all that that entails. The men and women who inhabit its branches will fall short, although hopefully from error rather from corruption.

But I have hope that they will not fail so much of the time. This, more than anything, makes the possibility of outrage so much more palatable than its certainty.