Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Another Day In Washington

Our president acknowledges that yes, we have secret prisons and it barely makes a stir. Is it because we as citizens believe this is an appropriate action for our government? Or do we think this kind of thing always goes on and this administration is just worse than others at keeping its secrets? Or maybe we disagree with the policy but we've become accustomed to this obsessive secrecy. Or maybe we're just too tired of scandal and ineptitude to muster a proper outrage.

From WaPo:
While the Defense Department has produced volumes of public reports and testimony about its detention practices and rules after the abuse scandals at Iraq's Abu Ghraib prison and at Guantanamo Bay, the CIA has not even acknowledged the existence of its black sites. To do so, say officials familiar with the program, could open the U.S. government to legal challenges, particularly in foreign courts, and increase the risk of political condemnation at home and abroad. though the core problem is one of being found out and not of our behaving like Huns.

What is the purpose of keeping a prison secret except to escape critical scrutiny? They are places where we can revert to barbarism without having to answer to anyone. (Oh, wait; our president assures us that they're humane and legal. I feel better now.) But when has it become acceptable for the operation of our government at its most audacious to take place entirely out of the public eye? Our own government-- a government supposedly of, by and for US--is keeping very controversial and substantial secrets primarily from US, and from other democratic nations whose belief in our essential goodness and unflappable ethics we rely upon. It is naive to think that every datum in the governing of a large nation in a dangerous world should be open for everyone to see. But that is too narrow a tree--much, much too narrow--to hide this elephant behind. I submit there is a huge and fundamental difference between keeping surveillance of terrorism suspects in this country, and the information gained thereby, for government's eyes only, versus the running of secret torture prisons explicitly off our soil to circumvent the suspects' protections under our laws. This is not a difference of degree; it is difference in kind.

I would be more willing to listen to the arguments about the necessity of this secrecy if it were not spread all through the administration to an almost unprecedented degree--if those uncovering the secrecy were not routinely called unpatriotic or even threatened with criminal prosecution--indeed, if someone had made an effective case that this particular war requires measures not previously thought necessary, an explanation of how the system of civil laws and governmental checks and balances upon which rests the world's greatest democracy is unequal to the task of dealing with this new threat. But we get no discussion, no explanation. Only testy admonishments from this halfwit that we're on the verge of destruction and only he can stop it. And even IF we grant that this war requires new measures, why can we not allow our elected representatives to craft those measures? Do we honestly believe that both the general public AND their elected representatives are simply not able to deal with these problems? If so, then, we have arrived at a dictatorship (or perhaps a DickCheneyship).

How do we convince people that our way is better when we must abandon it to make our point? How do we sway people that our intentions are good when we must resort to secrecy and barbarity to win our day? Perhaps this is now who we are--the conservative vision of society writ large: white, patriarchal, religious, rural, hawkish; how do I lodge my protest that I'm not one of them, that this is not my vision of my country, that I do not approve?


matty said...

Excellent, excellent post!

Anonymous said...

It's McCarthyism all over again. I keep thinking that I would have hated living (as an adult) during those times, but here we are in the 21 century having learned NOTHING from our past.

It has been said that the Bush administration is the most secretive in our history. This administration has gone as far as to censor items that have existed on library shelves for YEARS in the name of some demented need to control information.

I believe that the United States of America is the greatest country on earth. However, I also believe the present administration, including the Republican controlled congress need to collectively look in the mirror to see who the terrorists really are.

-Alex Random

wunelle said...

I just think they're all pushing an agenda, sold under the unassailable banner of piety, that does not align with the public's desires; but the religious wrapper is calculated to make resistance difficult (dangerous?). McCarthyism indeed.

Jeffy said...

I am afraid that much of the US thinks that this is a reasonable way for our government to try to 'protect' us from terrorists. It worries me that so many people are willing to give up so much in the futile hope that it will make them marginally safer.

I find it very ironic that in a country founded on the belief that everyone is equal and entitled to a set of basic human rights we can so easily decide that these tenets only apply to our own citizens.

I do think that we need to think a lot about what it takes to wage a war on individuals that are operating independantly of states. Many of our ideas about how to fight an enemy and how to treat enemy combatants stem from conflicts that really are between states, with the soldiers just carrying out the wishes of the government that they are serving. Once their government has been defeated these soldiers can lay down their arms, cease combat, and return to their normal lives. That is not the case with the jihadists we are dealing with now, so we do need to come up with more appropriate ways of dealing with them. BUT, we still need to follow the one preeminent rule that I am always pushing on my children: Treat others the way that you would want them to treat you. That doesn't mean they will, but it is the best practice.

When even the officials in our government are admitting that they would not tolerate other governments treating our citizens the way our government is treating its prisoners you have to know that things are out of whack.

wunelle said...

Hear, hear.

I think a basic idea behind the rule of law is that both sides do not necessarily have to play by the rules. The idea that because these terrorists are basically anarchic we therefore cannot combat them by sticking to our orderly and lawful ways is fundamentally flawed. Maybe we need to adjust our system in some way, but I simply cannot believe that it takes secretive near-dictatorial powers to face this broad, social problem.

I hadn't thought about the idea that we're fighting people who are not, per se, aligned with a governmental entity, a state. An interesting point.