Monday, September 11, 2006

The Price of Security

I watched a show last night on the Discovery Channel called “The Price of Security,” a documentary hosted by Ted Koppel which was followed by a live “town hall” discussion of some of the thought-provoking issues it raised. First of all, I have to say that I think Ted Koppel did a pretty amazing job. The program informed, angered and gave hope to people like me who sometimes feel that our politics and ideology are too far left of center to be part of the national consciousness. It was strange to find myself in agreement with some of the opinions voiced at the town hall meeting by people who I would consider conservatives. It just goes to show that I shouldn’t be so quick to judge others because they are coming from a different perspective. In the end, we may actually agree that there is a problem even if we don’t agree about the solution, or more specifically in this case, that there is a solution which has become a problem.

But let me back up for those of you who didn’t watch the special last night. In the documentary, Koppel traces the events following the attacks on 9/11 which resulted in a declaration of war against terrorism rather than war against a specific state (an ambiguous proposition) and the subsequent curtailment of civil liberties in an effort to aid in the gathering of intelligence in fighting that war.

Koppel then takes us on a tour of the detention center at Guantanamo where suspected terrorists or enemy combatants are held. When the interrogation techniques at Guantanamo came under fire for human rights abuses a few years ago, the C.I.A. simply stepped in and set up secret overseas detention centers, so-called Black Sites, to interrogate suspects outside of the U.S. using more “effective techniques” than U.S. law would allow.

I don’t know why, but I was shocked. After visiting Salem, MA just a few weeks ago I found it too easy to draw parallels between the way the accused witches and anyone suspected of being a terrorist were treated. The coffin cells, isolation, suspension, even the ducking (we call the process “waterboarding”) were straight out of the witch trials.

C.I.A. proposes new, improved interrogation method.

The argument has been made that the right to due process does not apply to suspected terrorists, especially since most detainees are not U.S. citizens. Furthermore, not even the guidelines described in the Third Geneva Convention which relates to the humanitarian treatment of prisoners can protect these suspected, yet untried detainees from witch-hunt style torture meant to extract confessions which will likely have all the validity that the testimony of the Salem witch trials produced.

I am not trying to say that these detainees are innocent. I’m more concerned with the question of who the fuck are we as a country? Who are we that we can pull people off the street and not even tell them what they’re accused of, without the right to face their accuser? Who are we that we can detain people indefinitely, subject them to sleep deprivation, waterboarding, hooding, psychological humiliation, and physical pain? Who are we that we allow our leaders to set themselves above the laws that we as a democracy chose to best serve our goals and ideals? It is up to us to demand that our leaders respect the principles of democracy, even when we are engaged in the defense of those same principles.

Isn’t it incredible that the President is just now attempting to get Congress to vote on a proposed law which would allow what he euphemistically calls “rough tactics,” but which in fact amounts to torture of suspected enemies? And just who are these enemies? What makes them suspect? Is it their religion, their color, the things they say, who their friends are? Someone I know has kids who planned to participate in a peaceful anti-war demonstration in California last week. It was shut down by local police who claimed that it was on a government list of terrorist organizations.

The hypocrisy of declaring a war against "fascism" and then using fascist tactics to fight it seems to be lost on our administration. All they seem to be able to talk about is how fucking scared they are and how scared we all should be. Maybe they should consider the words of an earlier President who once calmed a frightened nation with the phrase “there’s nothing to fear but fear itself.” Oh, I know FDR wasn’t perfect and I understand that presidents need to exert some extra control during wartime, but shouldn’t there be guidelines in place even for that? We can’t just say 'anything goes' in our effort to facilitate secrecy and dispatch. Not to go quote crazy, but remember the one about “absolute power corrupts absolutely”?


germsburn said...

As a Cato Institute libertarian, the infringement on civil liberties resulting from the so-called Patriot Act disgusts me; however, the detention of enemy combatants turns on a more complex and subtle issue. Under the Geneva Conventions, captured fighters are considered prisoners of war if they are members of an adversary state's armed forces or are part of an identifiable militia group that abides by the laws of war. By Human Rights Watch's own admission, Al-Qaeda members, who neither wear identifying insignia nor abide by the laws of war, do not qualify. Since May, 2003 the U.S. Government has afforded all Taliban detainees full rights of the Geneva Conventions; only suspected Al-Qaeda detainees have no GC rights.

Essentially what our government is saying is: if you carry concealed weapons, wear civilian clothing, target civilians to incite terror, then we will not treat you by the guidelines of Conventions that we are a party to, but you are not. This seems fair to me.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the blog entry on this important show, I caught a re-run of it last night and I think it may be aired again this week.

It was the kind of television that doesn't happen anymore. It brought to mind the movie "Good Night and Good Luck" - television that actually serves the purpose of informing the citizenry and alerting us to dangers to us all without rhetoric, hyperbole or scare tactics.

Score one for freedom of the press!

Anonymous said...

This was a great program, very thought provoking. I thought Koppel asked some tough questions. I found myself wondering, how in the hell do you fight a war based upon opposing ideologies? It's interesting that this war isn't as clinical as say the Kuwait offensive, I think the war, the deaths, the concept of torture is weighing heavily upon people.

Anonymous said...

Alice, you might be interested in this from today's news. As you noted, it's the powerful Republicans who are fighting the White House on this now and not the supposedly "bleeding heart" Democrats.

"Negotiations between the White House and a trio of powerful GOP senators snagged Wednesday over Bush administration demands that Congress reinterpret the nation's treaty obligations to allow tough CIA interrogations of terrorism suspects.

Sen. John Warner, chairman of the Armed Services Committee, said his panel would meet Thursday to finalize an alternative to President Bush's plan to prosecute terror suspects and redefine acts that constitute war crimes. Warner said he was aware the White House may come out in opposition of his legislation.

The Supreme Court ruled in June that Bush's court system established to prosecute terrorism suspects was illegal and violated the Geneva Conventions. Since then, Congress and the administration have been drafting legislation that would authorize Bush to continue with the military commissions.

"The credibility of the United States is very much a factor in this negotiation," said Warner. At issue primarily is the administration's suggestion to rule that an existing ban on cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment meets the nation's obligations under the treaty.

Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.)stated "[We] are not going to agree to changes in the definitions of Common Article 3 because that then sends the message to the world that we are not going to adhere fully to the Geneva Conventions..." McCain spent years in a North Vietnamese prison camp.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.) said that allowing the CIA to operate outside of the Geneva Convention would provide other countries a justification for mistreating Americans.

"They will pick the people out of the room: 'You, you, you, you're special, go over to the secret police,' " he said.

Anonymous said...

The Geneva Convention was written and voted on by our congress in 1948 (I think). Is Bush saying that Binladen is worse than Hitler? Did our 3 branches of government miss something after the death of 6 million Jews and 7 million gypsies, gays, and mentally ill? Our WWII government saw the result of fascism in all of it's horror and now our current government wants to rip apart the Geneva Convention so that they can be MORE like the facists we rid the world of 60 years ago. I guess you can't expect much from a 'C' student who probably spent more time at frat parties than history class. I am so ashamed that congress passed the lastest evil to make water boarding and other forms of torture A-OK.

Anonymous said...

"The hypocrisy of declaring a war against "fascism" and then using fascist tactics to fight it seems to be lost on our administration."

You might want to read about some of the tactics FDR used to prosecute WWII. We jailed American citizens of Japanese descent for no other reason then their race. Did FDR lose the plot? Were we as bad as our enemies because of it? Did we deserve to lose the war because of Manzanar?