Wednesday, January 15, 2003

Atrios was impressed enough by David Neiwart's comments about Japanese internment in one of his comments threads to repost it on the site itself. That's one of the things I like about Eschaton: Atrios is willing to give the spotlight up to people who make a good point. The stuff about the fallacy of Japanese saboteurs during WWII is a must-read, but what especially caught my eye was this:

Paul Bird:
I agree that this is an area of concern, but I don't think it is necessarily intrinsically abusive provided that the threshold for what constitutes an enemy combatant remains high.

Actually, the courts have specifically deferred to the power of the executive branch to proceed just as it has. And the standards for what will determine who is an “enemy combatant” are being determined by the White House. Here is what Solicitor General Ted Olson told the Washington Post would comprise those standards:
"There won't be 10 rules that trigger this or 10 rules that end this. There will be judgments and instincts and evaluations and implementations that have to be made by the executive that are probably going to be different from day to day, depending on the circumstances."

I don’t know about you, but I am far from comforted.

Can you tell me for certain that this executive will not one day decide that antiwar protesters -- deemed “traitors” already in the popular press -- are worthy of the title “enemy combatants”?

If you can, then you have more confidence in him than I.

More to the point, I do not believe any president, regardless of party or skill, should be able either to wield such powers, nor should he be able to delegate them to as unaccountable an entity as the military.
The problem isn't that Bush himself will subvert this, but that since this power has been arrogated by the entire executive branch it opens itself up to abuse by the entire executive branch. Since that branch includes (among other things) the entirely partisan Department of Homeland Defense, the possibility (if not probability) arises that these sorts of decisions will be made not just without the people knowing, but without the senior administration knowing as well.

It's not even a comfort to say that "this will only last as long as the War on Terrorism". There's absolutely no indication that said war will end anytime soon, and it's quite likely that (like the Wars on Drugs and Poverty) it will be a neverending battle against something that never quite goes away, granting enormous power to the executive branch in perpetuity. Sure it might not be abused now when the hyperbole is thick and fast, but are people going to pay as much attention four, five, eight years from now? When they've become used to it? When it's become "just one of those things"?

I Remember that the biggest concern of many Russians during the reactionary coup of August 1991 was that despite the clear illegality of the action, the coup plotters might be able to get away with it, and after a few weeks or months the people might just "get used to it" and learn to live with it. They didn't, largely because of Boris Yeltsin's brave stand and the willingness of ordinary Muscovites to put their lives on the line and say "no". They did this despite Russia at the time being in a state of uncertainty and chaos that dwarfs anything the United States has faced since the civil war; to claim that the United States' security concerns nowadays even begin to match those of the disintegrating and impoverished Soviet Union is sheer lunacy. Is there anybody in Washington who would be willing to do the equivalent of climbing on top of a tank and declare the illegitimacy of these sorts of actions? Someone who could speak their piece without paying attention to the self-serving and vaguely authoritarian pronouncements about "national security" and "executive flexibility" that extend from movement conservatives who have nothing to lose, and everything to gain? Someone who could assert their loyalty both to the United States and the principles that are (at least theoretically) supposed to underpin its exceptionality?

For that matter, how sad is it that people even have to be reminded?

In any case, by all means check out Atrios' full quotation, and remember that when Franklin was talking about the pitfalls of exchanging security for freedom, he wasn't merely latching on to the right's beloved Second Amendment, and remember that rights that are reserved solely for "desirables" are, by definition, not the self-evident truths that the United States was supposedly built upon. A while back I lamented that it seemed that the commitment to freedom that supposedly made the U.S. different seemed to be conditional on the absolute territorial security that luck of geography has granted the U.S... but if those rights are merely luxuries that the geographically blessed enjoy, then why on earth should anyone not so blessed pay attention to the "shining beacon of freedom"?

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