We begin another week with me wondering what exactly is the path forward for the United States. There are so many wrongs and only a few rights lately. The tough part is that the wrongs are often being committed for the “right” reason. Just a quick look through the sites I frequent tonight show me the President looking to take action against financial institutions, which I understand, but it will have horrible consequences. I will be writing about this coming soon. Another article talked about using reconciliation to pass health care. Again, I have and will continue to write about this subject (The tough part here is that so few details are actually being offered by the administration or Congress, leaving the argument “there is no bill to criticize” on the table for all who want to avoid the debate). But I ran across this article last week. It didn’t get a lot of press that I saw. But I felt that it must be covered, because this is an instance where, in my opinion, we are wrong and for the wrong reasons. At what point to we become no better than those we denounce?
The article caught my attention because of the headline, “Lindsey Graham: White House Mulling Indefinite Detention.” I immediately thought to myself, indefinite detention, since when is that a good thing? I will admit that the headline led me to believe that I would be reading an article where Graham was finding fault with the White House position. But alas, it seems that instead what I found was that this was Graham’s position and he has finally gotten the White House to agree to sit down and discuss it. The article went like this:
The White House is considering endorsing a law that would allow the indefinite detention of some alleged terrorists without trial as part of efforts to break a logjam with Congress over President Barack Obama’s plans to close the Guantanamo Bay prison, Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said Monday.
Last summer, White House officials said they had ruled out seeking a “preventive detention” statute as a way to deal with anti-terror detainees, saying the administration would hold any Guantanamo prisoners brought to the U.S. in criminal courts or under the general “law of war” principles permitting detention of enemy combatants.
However, speaking at a news conference in Greenville, S.C. Monday, Graham said the White House now seems open to a new law to lay out the standards for open-ended imprisonment of those alleged to be members of or fighters for Al Qaeda or the Taliban.
“We’re beginning to look at the idea we need to change our laws come up with better guidance” for judges handling cases of enemy combatants, Graham said. “I’ve been talking to the administration for the last couple of days. I’m encouraged that we’re going to sit down and do some of the hard things we haven’t done as a nation after September 11.”
“I think we need to change our laws to give our judges better guidance— rules of the road,” Graham said. “We need a statute to deal with that.”
Asked whether the White House is again considering a preventive detention statute, spokesman Ben LaBolt said: “We will review constructive proposals from Senator Graham and other Members of Congress that are consistent with the national security imperative that we close Guantanamo and ensure the swift and certain justice the families of victims have long deserved.”
The link is at the bottom of this article. So Graham believes that the way to handle those who are captured, arrested, detained, etc in our ongoing “War on Terror” is to detain them indefinitely, without a trial. Allow me to be as clear as I can be on this…
I believe that it is a violation of human rights to detain someone indefinitely without a trial or hearing or tribunal of some sort to determine both their guilt and the proper course of action in dealing with the defendant going forward.
I know that there are differing camps on this one. I understand that the die hard folks believe that the terrorists are out to get us and should therefore have no rights. Don’t get me wrong. Terrorists are about the bottom of the scum layer for me as well. I don’t care how much someone wants to claim they are simply resorting to the only weapon they have available. Killing innocent folks is wrong. And that means it is wrong when the US does it too. However, regardless of how low on the ladder of morality the terrorist falls, we must never surrender our own values and principles. Yes, these men are criminals when captured. I don’t doubt it for a second. But that does not mean that we stoop to their level. If I could share a quote:
The degree of civilization in a society can be judged by entering its prisons. Feodor Mikhailovich Dostoyevsky
If this quote is to be accepted as anywhere near the mark in terms of accuracy, what does this say about the degree of civilization in America. I don’t live in a shell. I know the world. And I am acutely aware that our prison systems are better than many in the world. Better, safer, and more humane. But that changes dramatically when we get into the shadow world of secret prisons, interrogations (of the enhanced type), and the treatment of war criminals. As the last several years have shown us, our track record there isn’t so hot. And it isn’t the fault of the Republicans or the Democrats alone. As Speaker Pelosi showed us, both sides are in on the game. The Democrats just do a better job of hiding their approval and calling out Republicans.
To be honest, I don’t really care which way we go in handling these “enemy combatants.” I know the big arguments about running them through civilian courts versus military tribunals. I have debated the issue before and you are all aware of my positions on this. The point is, regardless of which side of that debate you fall on, you want to see the accused go through the process. Put them in a civilian court. Put them through a military tribunal. Come up with some other way of doing it.
BUT DO IT.
To say that we are somehow justified in holding a captured suspect forever without the process of determining his guilt or innocence is FAR below the acceptable standards of morality in the United States of America. I know, many of the folks opposed to our government will tell you this is just another example of the low level of United States morality. But our people are better than this. At least the vast majority of them. Our government may have lost all of its principles and values a while ago, but the average American citizen still knows the difference between what is right and what is wrong on a basic level.
The laws of War state that we can hold enemy combatants for the length of the war. This is a practice that has held for centuries, usually resulting in the negotiation for release once the war comes to some sort of conclusion. But here is the problem with using this practice in the current situation: There is no way for this war to come to a “conclusion.” The war on terror doesn’t involve a country we can conquer. It doesn’t involve a leader who can surrender to us and end it. There is no winning the war on terror. There is only fighting it. And at the rate we are going, we will be fighting it for the next century. It is never-ending and as unconventional as anything we have ever seen in terms of a “war”.
And that means that what is being proposed is that the people who are captured in this war on terror, if denied a trial of some sort, will spend the rest of their lives in our custody. They will never have the opportunity to plead their case or defend themselves. Under Senator Graham’s proposal, they will be held forever. It will be called a preventative detention. Under the guise of protecting us from potential harm, the government will deem that it is justified in denying the accused any form of due process while holding them.
There are two problems with this result. The first is obvious. What if the combatant is innocent of the charges leveled against them by the United States government? It certainly seems to be happening quite a bit. I have seen many different numbers out there, so it is hard to be accurate here, but you can get a feel for the reality. Almost 800 detainees have gone through Guantanamo detention facility. Over 400 of those have been released without charge. That is over 50%. Ponder that for a moment. Over 50% of the people that have ended up at Gitmo have been released without charge. So how many of the other 400, who haven’t been released, are also guilty of nothing more than ending up in American custody? I don’t have the answer. Under Graham’s proposal, no one will have the answer. Because there won’t be a trial to find out.
The second problem is not as obvious. I know many of you are reading this and thinking that it sucks but it isn’t your problem. What you fail to take into account is the fact that once the government has the precedence on its side of holding folks, legally, without a trial, indefinitely, there is no turning back. How long do you think it will be before we start seeing Americans ending up held in custody like this? Think about all the political debates and discussions you have had on blogs and at the news sites. Can you say with 100% certainty that you have never said anything that the federal government couldn’t twist into you being either a radical or a threat or a supporter of our enemies? So what happens when you end up held indefinitely without a trial, deemed by Janet Napolitano to be a radical or an extremist because you dared say that Washington is beyond fixing?
There is no power you can give government that they do not grow and cultivate until it becomes a monster that we can no longer control. Let us not forget that the income tax began as a tax of 1% on the income of the top 1% of earners in America. The other 99% all felt this was fair. How many of you think the income tax is still a fair deal? If we fail to hold them accountable as they treat others this way, they will eventually move on to any who oppose them, including us.
This is one area where the White house needs to stand its ground. I don’t always agree with how they want to deal with enemy combatants. But the White House last year said that they at least wanted to deal with them. Get them in some sort of justice system. To now be discussing a reversal of this position as a way to “break the gridlock with the GOP” amounts to, in my opinion, a sacrifice of moral principles for political expediency. That is never acceptable.
The GOP should be called out for this position. It goes against the very christian principles that the GOP so often wants to claim they represent. The United States was founded as a nation of law. A nation of principles and freedom. This policy goes against all of those. More important, this position goes against the basic tenants of human rights.
We have every right in this country to take the actions that are necessary in order for us to remain safe from those that wish to do us harm. Terrorists are becoming more active, more determined, and unfortunately, more numerous. However, this does not mean that we have to abandon the basic tenants of our values and principles in dealing with the threat. The first step towards defeating terrorism is to embrace the concept of conducting our selves in a manner that can be agreed is better than them. That starts with giving detainees due process. If the GOP wants to regain some of the moral footing they have lost so completely over the last 10 years, they could begin by dumping this moronic position on detainees.