Tuesday, May 30, 2006

We Don't Respect No Stinkin' Detainees...

A Wall Street Journal article, "Terrorists and the Supreme Court", 4/1-2/06, was extremely troubling to me, as it conflates several unrelated topics and duly draws fallacious conclusions from them.

Throughout the article the words "captured", "enemy", and "enemy combatants" appears. Indeed, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia is quoted, "I'm not about to give (a Guantanamo Bay detainee) who was captured in a war a full jury trial."

This is exactly the point that keeps getting obfuscated. If they were captured in a war, then they are POW's, and should be afforded the full protection of the Geneva Convention. If they are terrorists, then they are criminals. I guess anyone in prison is a "detainee", but the fine point of the law which is absolutely skirted evertime is: what are they in for? There is no other way--the detained person must be categorized. "Detainee"--while it may describe the held person's state of being at the moment--is not a categorization which will hold up in a court of law. Why are we unclear on this matter? If we are to maintain any integrity in the world community, we must abide by the rule of law.

When the Soviet Union invaded Afghanistan, the U.S. declared this action to be a violation of international law. But when the U.S. did the same thing, it was democracy in action! Can you say "double standard"?

What statute, U.S. law or international law legitimizes the concept of "illegal enemy combatants"? Categories cannot be arbitrarily established for the convenience of the bullheaded architects of the War on Terror (WOT). We are a nation of laws, and the laws dictate that if a person is a terrorist, then there is a protocol to follow regarding how they are to be arrested, tried, and legally dealt with, from initial incarceration to sentencing phase. This is all in place, in present U.S. legal code. 9/11 did not shake the bearings from our Consitution.

"Illegal + enemy + combatant" is not a conflation which we recognize. It is akin to someone running in on a football game from the sidelines, wearing a stolen jersey and helmet, and saying that they were really in the game once they are caught in their ruse. The people we are speaking of are not running into the fray from the sidelines. They are affiliated. And while they may lack the proper jersey and helmet, they are not confused about which side they are on. If they are fighting an invading power, and subsequently subdued by the occupying force, then they are POW's. On the other hand, if they are wreaking havoc upon an unarmed populace for the purpose of advancing a political agenda, they are terrorists (=criminals), and should be prosecuted to the extent of the law.

Why is this administration loathe to rely on the open rule of law? Isn't this the bedrock of democratic thought and action?

The concept that a detainee has the burden to prove his or her innocence is anathema to U.S. law. "Innocent, until proven guilty" has been our legal system's watchword since our origin. In contrast to this revered ideology, the new detainees have been denied access to all legal measures, and for some reason, Americans are proud to keep them in prisons without either due process or the conferral of POW status. This should sicken all Americans.

The WSJ article goes on to talk of the "all too real threat from dirty bombs, anthrax and WMD that can kill hundreds of thousands." Where is the evidence for this 1984-ish statement? We accept these warnings without critical evaluation, permitting a pervasive climate of fear, enabling the administration to trample upon the rule of law with the U.S.citizen's tacit approval.

I have heard my fellows say, "Well, I have nothing to hide, so what need have I to fear wiretaps and other infringements upon my First Amendment rights?" I am brought to mind of the poem attrbuted to Martin Niemoller, "First They Came for the Communists." To paraphrase:

"When the Nazis came for the communists/the social democrats/trade unionists/Jews...I did not speak out. When they came for me, there was no one left to speak out."

Sunday, May 28, 2006

Everything's Fine in America...

(Reprint of letter published in the Tallahassee Democrat, 5/26/06)

What Form of English is Bush Promoting?

In the Associated Press story "Bush wants newcomers to learn English" (May 20), White House Press secretary Tony Snow is quoted as saying, "The president...wants to make sure that people who become Amercian citizens have a command of the English language."

Now, would these new "Murcan" citizens be expected to master the Texified form of English that the president himself has matered, or some more sanitized textbook version? I think the specifics need to be ironed out.

Jim Hruska

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Terrorists are Criminals, not POW's

The recent Moussaoui trial shows both our divided philosophy on categorization of our enemies, and the correct legal approach to dealing with terrorism.

He was tried and convicted as a criminal, in a court of law. But if this is a war (on terror), as is perpetually contended, then Moussaoui is not a criminal, but rather a POW of said WOT. So which is it? Even as a POW, he could be tried for crimes against humanity. But we can't have it both ways. This is a case where the terminology of war does not suit our needs, for the common criminal is enfolded into the category of legitimate combatant.

Elevating terrorism to warfare legitimizes the terrorist's criminal atrocities, and this recognition should not be accorded to thugs. All terrorism is criminality, and should be dealt with as such. Shamefully, the U.S. government eschews this democratic principle of following precedent and legal channels, and recently seems to prefer secret courts, secret prisons, and indeterminate sentences which have not been adjudicated by a legal court action. It seems that secret police may not be too far in the future.

Helter Skelter

So Iran has become an emerging threat. Feeling very Dr. Frankenfurter, I'll say, "Well, how 'bout that?" Photos of Zarqawi have surfaced, as well as a video from Osama bin Laden. Rove is going down the pike. The Sec Def has been assailed by retired generals, raising the age-old question of loyalty and civilian control of the military. Now the president puts a military-type in charge of the CIA, while said General is neither a terrorism nor Middle East expert.

The Moussaoui trial has concluded, and Al-Arian has copped a deal. Bush says 200 acts of terrorism have been averted thanks to the Patriot Act (Show me the money.) During this same period, Condoleezza has finally figured out that dominatrix boots are not appropriate wear when dealing with Islamic clientele.

And I remain confused over the topic of Iran. Pakistan gets a sweetheart deal that facilitates production of nuclear weapons, but Iran can't have a bomb. Never mind that the U.S. has Iran boxed in on three sides, and has a tendency to invade and enforce regime change. Never mind that Iran cannot project a weapon nor does it possess offensive capabilities. Bush places Iran as a top-level threat.

I personally believe that oil and gas prices, the Chinese trade deficit, U.S. policy that alienates oil producers, such as Russia and Venezuela, and a runaway trillion plus dollar elective war are much greater strategic threats to U.S. national interests. If push comes to shove, we can always nuke them to keep them from getting a nuke, right?

As for the Osama tapes--why is he still here? Obviously, there is an alternative universe in which people are protecting him. Where are the U.S. priorities? If Al Quaida is the threat, then shouldn't they also be the main thrust of U.S. actions? U.S. policy must address the significant threats, and ignore non-essential elements. Does this war address the actual threat against U.S. interests? Even if Saddam had WMD, how was this a threat to the U.S.? Is America safer now that Saddam is effectively gone? Everything else is irrelevant.

All the King's Horses, and All the King's Men...

Yesterday I watched as the Senate oversight committee questioned Donald Rumsfeld and his right-hand man Pace about cutting U.S. troop committments in Iraq. Both Rumsfeld and Pace insisited that we are creating a strong army and police force, and that, consequently, will insure a successful and democratic Iraq. Also, they promised the U.S. will not leave until this is completed ("mission accomplished"--ring a bell?)

So, success is defined by an Iraq made to our image and likeness? And why is the U.S. military developing an Iraqi police force? Is this the shape of things to come in America--a militarized police force?

As a nod in that disturbing direction, we now have the National Guard enforcing civilian law in the border states. What's next? Why not just scrap Posse Comitatus if it's being trampeled upon with not a squeek from Congress?

The logic behind the thinking that a strong police force equates with a successful and pacific society is erroneous. For example, the Republic of Vietnam had an incredible Army and police structure, but it did not help them persevere. What about Chiang Kai Shek, the Shah of Iran, the British Army in 1770-80 America, the Czar of Russia in 1917, the Soviet Union, Batista's Cuba...ad nauseum.

So why doesn't Rumsfeld et al examine and attempt to understand the forces of history. A strong army and police will not insure that a state will be successful or survive. If anything, the opposite may be true, since the most democratic countries spend more on social programs than they do on police and military budgets. An examination of our NATO allies and EU members may prove illustrative of this. Their funds are spent largely on growing their economy, and not elective, non-essential wars which merely deplete a country's coffers, both economically and manpower-wise.

The success of democracy in Iraq is not the responsibility of the U.S. taxpayer. Truth is, he couldn't buy it if he wanted to. The Iraqis have to be customers for what we want to sell. If what we're ostensibly selling is a blueprint for democracy, and if they wanted to buy in, we wouldn't have to be paying them to take the bait. Unlike the Hoover salesman of yore, who threw a handful of dirt on the floor, only to neatly vacuum it all up, Iraq has more than a spot of dirt, and you can't mop up a whole society with cops nor army, when the people are drowning in need.

Friday, May 19, 2006

The Mouse that Roared

The New York Times recently reported that President Bush is considering negotiations on a "peace treaty" with North Korea.

I've consistently objected to the misuse of words by the news media and the government. It seems that words no longer have any fixed meaning, and their useage is often convoluted. Surely the NYT, and especially the state Department, know that you can't negotiate a peace treaty unless there is a state of belligerancy. Peace treaties end wars.

This feels like a tautology, but I'll risk it: words have to have meanings that are commonly agreed upon if we are to continue as a society which obeys rules and laws (i.e., words with meanings.) Iraq was invaded without an act of war, and there was no subsequent peace treaty. This invasion was an event that should have required a (1) declaration of war, and (2) consequent peace treaty, but neither occurred. So how can we suppose to be a nation of rule and law?

In an administration that is sorely lacking in combat experience, there seems to be a love of military terms, such as "war" and "peace negotiations". I am brought to mind of the combat chic ethos which reigns in fashion today. Cargo pockets, rip cords...you do not have to have served, to simply be a fellow traveller. And as Marcus Welby famously said in his white coat in a commercial while peddling an over-the-counter bromide, "I may not be a doctor, but I play one on t.v." It's like putting on a flight suit and landing on an aircraft carrier--you can almost imagine having been there.

It would be more appropriate and less provocative if words like "normalizing relations", or "accords" had been used in this context.

Possibly Castro should take a lead from Iran and North Korea and start developing a nuclear weapon. Then the U.S. might initiate a peace treaty with Cuba. It only seems fair, since we routinely give sweetheart deals to China, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, and other less-than-democratic nations, yet continue to treat Castro like a pariah.