Thursday, June 19, 2008

Trying Terrorists

In the wake of the Supreme Court's ruling against indefinite detention in Boumediene vs. Bush, I've been following the commentary (both professional and those comments people leave at the end of articles) with a certain degree of distress. The court's majority opinion seems well-reasoned and appears able to afford particular goals -- security -- within the rights we as Americans suture our country with -- freedom from extended, unwarranted detainment. Four of our justices, however -- two of them appointed by the current President -- took the line that our system of justice is inadequate to the (apparently) unique situation of terrorism. And one of our current presidential candidates concurred calling the majority decision, "the worst" case result in American history. What disturbs me is a combination of what the minority is fighting for, but also their rhetoric, which sacrifices reasoning for the emotional reaction of fear.

And we continue to receive evidence that those whom the Bush administration has held indefinitely are not necessarily dangerous. Which is not to say they are all innocent and tree-hugging; rather, the decision to arrest people has often been capricious, based on inaccurate information that has been incompletely followed up, in ignorance of evidence that would absolve certain detainees, cruel, criminally abusive, in direct contradiction of international independent oversight, and so forth. Thus, the Supreme Court decision opened up the way to require the government to determine whether people are innocent or not before holding them indefinitely and thoughtful people are seriously complaining. has a perspicuous column today by Steve Chapman entitled "Terrorized by the Supreme Court" which bitingly explores and explodes the arguments of the minority opinion (Scalia's much quoted "[this decision] will almost certainly cause more Americans to be killed."). The article further examines the effects of the decision, arguing that it won't help many to leave custody -- unless they have been cleared; suggesting that many of these previous "enemy combatants" may enter the battlefields upon their release, but only because they were innocently mistreated and now want their just revenge (hardly an alien sentiment); and, most tellingly in my opinion, gestures to why the term "enemy combatant" is preferred to POW -- the latter have particular rights and cannot be tortured. (That the former also do has been completely ignored.)

The entire incident should remind us of the inanity of governing by fear and trembling. When officials declare that terrorism is a unique ill that must be dealt with in ways that contradict our very foundational beliefs as a nation and put us at odds with standard treatment of prisoners everywhere, we place ourselves in more danger. We legitimize the very claims made about our nation and draw recruits to a cause that moderates can sympathize with. But when our officials argue that to act according to the standards of common decency is to incur danger on our shores, they establish the precedent that safety can be exchanged for freedom. And they blind us to many of the causes that encourage terrorism: US occupation of foreign bases (like the 50-odd ones Bush apparently wishes to establish), our energy policies which enrich countries who fight against us, and rampant trampling of the rights of citizens and nations that we disagree with. If we really want to stop terrorism, we need to positively interact with our enemies, provide an example of how we govern that flatly contradicts radical fundamentalist's interpretations, and reduce our dependence on foreign oil.

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Friday, June 13, 2008

Political funding vs charity donations

A few times during this lengthy campaign, people have commented that it's obscene how much money has been donated to the candidates when it would do a world of good if given to charities instead. I have a few complaints with such a position, though on the surface it's appealing. My major disagreement, though, is to point out that people are donating to effect change -- the same sort of change charities work with -- because they feel our current political path has become overgrown. Thus, the increase of monetary donations probably stems from a similar stimulus that gives to charity. And while I haven't given to charity for awhile, I did donate (twice? thrice?) to Obama's campaign because I believe that we should not be spending billions on a war in Iraq while there are problems that can be solved with that money here and in poverty stricken areas of the world. 

One of the things I've noticed a few times on Obama's website is that the "donate now" button becomes replaced with a similarly worded message asking for donations on behalf of the Red Cross. Here's one example . This is just one more reason I think Obama actually does go about things differently; he knows he has a huge group of followers and he attempts to channel that: into hope at rallies, into plans for volunteer "gap years" for young people, into pleas to help those affected by natural disasters. Amidst all the coverage of his campaign -- and politics as usual -- this is something different.

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