Prisoner of conscience
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Prisoner of conscience

You know what I want to write about at this site? Cool stuff on the Web, better ways to develop software, and generally speaking, stuff that fascinates me. You know what I find myself writing about? Torture. Habeas corpus. Assertions of executive privilege. I’d prefer not to, but I just can’t stop myself.

While some Republicans made a halfhearted show of conscience and Democrats hid in the most craven fashion imaginable, the Bush Administration managed to pass a bill that will enable the government to imprison people for as long as it likes without giving them a day in court, and to torture those prisoners as much as it likes. This law diminishes this country, sullies the values upon which it was founded, and rolls back many centuries of progress in how governments relate to the governed.

How can people not get it? This is a do or die situation, and Democrats in government treated it as an issue to be managed with regard to the upcoming election. I won’t even get into the Republicans. The New York Times lays out the stakes of passing this law in no uncertain terms today. Read the editorial. Plenty of people have pointed out that this law not only trashes the constitution, it trashes the Magna Carta.

And in the midst of this, the excuse makers are trying to tell us that there’s a difference between “torture” and “coercion” and that one is OK and one is obviously bad, as though there’s some kind of bright line between the two. There is a bright line, but torture and coercion are on the same side of it. Don’t take my word for it, read the Washington Post op-ed by Soviet dissident Vladimir Bukovsky. I can’t quote from it without just pasting the whole thing. Just read it and think about what kind of country you want to live in.

I apologize for repeatedly returning to this depressing subject. My posts about the evils of torture aren’t going to change which laws get passed or keep people from being ordered to intentionally inflict pain and suffering on other people, but I do hope to convince people, or maybe just a single person that torture is wrong and that the things our leaders pretend aren’t torture really are. Someday people will ask where we stood on these issues, and I’ll be able to tell them that I stood on the side of civilization.

Update: I just read that my representative, Bob Etheridge (D-NC), voted in favor of the bill. I won’t be voting for him in November.

10 thoughts on “Prisoner of conscience

  1. Ahh, no need to apologize. Like you, I’d rather read about cool stuff on the web and stuff that fascinates me, and that is why I keep coming here.

    We all need to keep speaking out about such atrocities, I think, so that we don’t forget and—through complacency—condone them.

    I suspect those who pray at the alter of torture would be the first to pick up the pitchforks when one of our own was water-boarded, burned, frozen and finally killed (all caught on video, of course), even though that’s what we’re doing to many other people, lots of them who were innocent.

    The talking points seem to boil down to “well, if some terrorist knew when and where the next attack was coming, we need to be able to torture him in order to get that information and prevent the attack.” For all of the detanees, how many would this apply to? What about the ones who have no info, but you have to torture anyway just in case?

    I would much rather practice prevention than reaction. I would much rather say that we got all the low hanging fruit—the obvious security holes—and when the next attack comes, we’re going to pick ourselves up, learn from it, and then move on.

    What else can you do?

  2. I feel like I could have written this post. I’d been unable to blog about anything else but the war and torture and on and on for so long I finally stopped blogging altogether. It’s bad for my mental health to obsess over it, and yet as Bryan points out, it’s worse to ignore it.

    The Democrats’ absolute capitulation on this is atrocious. They are going to get slimed and tarred for being wimps whether they go along with this type of thing or not (do they not remember 2002?). Of all the times to take a stand, this was it. Senate Dems could have stopped it.

    Arg, I’m doing it again. I am honestly fearful of what the next few years will bring in a way I have never been before.

    Bryan asked: For all of the detanees, how many would this apply to?

    None, the answer is none. This scenario is just not possible. We don’t need to structure our laws around a one in a trillion chance that life will turn out like a TV show where we know every single bit of information except the location of the bomb, and oh hey, we got the one guy who does know, and we actually know he knows. Sure.

  3. As Hillary Clinton pointed out (finally, she’s taking a stand!), the rejection of torture in this country started with George Washington. I believe this is one of the worst bills in our nation’s history. If any bill ought to be filibustered, it’s this one.

    But it won’t. As you pointed out, the Dems are too busy “strategizing” for November. I wonder how much good it will do to capture a bit of power if we have lost our soul in the process.

  4. rc3.org: Prisoner of conscience

    While some Republicans made a halfhearted show of conscience and Democrats hid in the most craven fashion imaginable, the Bush Administration managed to pass a bill that will enable the government to imprison people for as long as it likes…

  5. I disagree with your (from my point of view) insufficiently nuanced stance on interrogation, Rafe, but I’m with you on this bill.

    I’ve read it; the text is here: http://thomas.loc.gov/cgi-bin/query/z?c109:S.3930:

    The bill distinguishes between lawful enemy combatants (soldiers and members of organized state-associated military groups) and unlawful combatants (anybody who’s not a lawful combatant). This is, on its face, a good thing.

    The problem is, before 9/11, an “unlawful enemy combatant” would have been considered a criminal and subject to civilian laws.

    This bill essentially establishes a third class of offenders, distinct from civilians and military prisoners. But the line between a civilian and an unlawful combatant is so blurry as to be basically non-existent. (Except for the qualification that citizens of the United States are not covered by this bill.)

    I’m entirely uncomfortable with the idea of establishing a whole new system of due process for people who, prior to 9/11, would technically have been considered civilians.

    So yeah. Bad bill.

  6. Then again, I will be honest enough to admit that my opinion might change if a non-military person were to detonate a nuclear bomb in my home town. If the day ever comes, God forbid, when individuals can wage war the same way states can, I think we might need to reconsider our opposition, if not to this bill, then at least to the philosophy behind this bill.

    (Sorry for posting a second comment, but this thought came to me after I submitted my first one, and I felt compelled in the interest of openness to share it.)

  7. WWII, Cold War, War on Terror, leadership styles

    FDR: Oh, I’m sorry, was wiping out our entire Pacific fleet supposed to intimidate us? We have nothing to fear…

  8. Jeff Harrel 9:44: God forbid, when individuals can wage war the same way states can, I think we might need to reconsider our opposition.

    Huh? Please define “wage war the same way states can.” Does this mean landing 5,000 troops on the shores of San Fransisco? Does it mean sending in a strategic strike team of 10 guys to assassinate the Mayor of Chicago? What about strapping bombs onto kids so they can blow themselves up just outside of the NYSE right before the opening bell?

    The bottom line is that the “war on Terror” cannot be won at all–because “to win” means that all the terrorists are dead or the cost of hitting the US is way too high. You cannot kill every terrorist without turning the world into a glass parking lot, so that’s right out. States will avoid attacking other states because they have tangible assets that can be captured. What tangible assets of a terrorist can you capture? His family? His home? He’s going to kill himself anyway, because he’s either crazy or he’s been driven to such desperation, so none of that matters, does it?

    I believe the best you can do is eliminate as many of the causes (i.e., why do people want to blow us up?) and be prepared to accept the fact that some crazy people will do crazy stuff no matter what (cf., Columbine High).

    To live in a state of terror is to do exactly what the terrorists want. To give up our most cherished beliefs and morals is exactly what the terrorists want. To become more like them by torturing, maiming and killing the innocent and detaining and executing the guilty without a fair trial…is exactly what the terrorists want.

  9. “What about the ones who have no info, but you have to torture anyway just in case?”

    This is collateral damage. When a weapon is used, it’s almost inevitable that innocent life will be injured and/or lost. Most of us have accepted in our conscience the fact that when we drop bombs on terrorist cells or hideouts etc, a few civilians are hurt in the process. Whatever your feelings towards collateral damage, your feelings towards torture should be similar.

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