Saturday, November 14, 2009

Rogue Justice

Normally, I would applaud the Obama administration's decision to try Khalid Sheik Mohammed in a New York federal court. Not only does that decision display confidence in the American legal system but it also changes the war on terrorism to a far more logical and sustainable criminal matter. Normally, all this would be a step in the right direction.

Except that it's not. Looking at the decision--decisions, actually, since multiple defendants and legal venues are in play--Glen Greenwald points out that Obama has abandoned the idea of equal justice under law in favor of adapting the legal system to ensure conviction based on differing levels of evidence. "Show trials," he calls them.

I learned all about show trials early in life. My elementary education in the 1950's lost few opportunities to remind that evil Communists staged show trials before executing anyone who challenged the Communist Party rule. America, we were told, was different, a place where all were protected by the rule of law and all Americans could live safe in the knowledge that we would never be hauled into a Kafkaesque darkness from which we would never emerge.

That belief was not entirely unfounded. America's founders experienced the arbitrary rule of a monarch above the law and wrote a Constitution that specifically barred those practices. At first, equal justice under law was for all practical purposes guaranteed only for white male property-owners but later expanded to encompass (in word if not deed) all Americans. As a nation we celebrate our commitment to the rule of law as a proud achievement.

Which is all the more reason to lament the nation's willingness to abandon that principle in times of danger. Hearing the hue and cry over the danger of prosecuting terror suspects in civilian courts leaves me wondering why America is so eternally afraid. Apparently we have no confidence in our domestic police, prosecutors and foreign intelligence to identify and disrupt plotters. We seem to believe that Terror (with a capital T for trouble) is beyond our capability as a free and open society.

This is the same so-called logic I've heard all my life; namely, that some threats are just so dangerous that extraordinary measures are necessary. From the "unitary executive" to show trials, our fears encourage us to discard the ideals that we thought we treasured.


A couple other articles that address the same subject but did not fit easily into my stream of thought for this post are also worth reading if you want to pursue this subject even further.

ProPublicadetails competition between civilian and military prosecutors over jurisdiction and procedure even as they bargain with defendants to find something that will create a guilty plea and verdict.

Dahlia Lithwick at Slate follows oral arguments before the Canadian Supreme Court in the case of Canadian citizen Omar Khadr, captured at age 15 in Afghanistan and now headed for trial before a military commission.


The Business of Higher Education

You have the right to go to the out-of-state college of your choice.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Veterans Day 2009

On this Veterans Day I am thinking of Pat Tillman and Barack Obama. Pat Tillman is prominent in my thoughts because I am reading Where Men Win Glory, John Krakauer’s story of Tillman’s life and death. Barack Obama looms large because he could possibly strike a blow for real change and real peace but probably will not.

Tillman’s story is well-known. He was the patriotic football player who left a lucrative career and died for his country. First hailed as a combat hero and brandished by the CheneyBush administration as a patriotic prop during an election year, the Army later admitted that Tillman’s died from “friendly fire”, he was killed by his own men in an ill-fated mission. Krakauer adds depth and detail to the story, drawn from Tillman’s t diaries and recollection of family and friends. Krakauer also details the Tillman’s final mission, which was also his first as a full-fledged ranger.

What emerges in Where Men Win Glory is an account of a thoughtful, determined and dedicated young man whose talent and sacrifice were wasted. Tillman is not perfect—at 18 he was charged with felonious assault, later reduced to misdemeanor assault, for severely beating another teenager and Krakauer doesn't ignore Tillman's other less edifying behaviors—but Tillman learns from his experiences, in life, on the playing field and in the Army. I particularly identify with the Specialist Pat Tillman who forgoes the opportunity to harass lower ranking soldiers.

Krakauer subtitles his book as “The Odyssey of Pat Tillman”. The subtitle is not an overreach. Tillman was on an odyssey. Not surprising--that’s what life is. Tillman’s odyssey just played out in a more public way. Like Homer’s Odyssey, Tillman’s offers lessons about the strength and power of determination. Tillman’s odyssey also reminds us of the irrelevance of honor and patriotism in the CheneyBush wars.

Which brings me to Barack Obama, inheritor of those wars, who must now decide what to do with them. All accounts suggest that he will send more troops and try to hold off the Taliban insurgency while he jump starts the Afghan army. Obama could take a different path, a path that would lessen the violence and allow Afghan society to rebuild on its own terms in concert with its neighbors and the international community. Robert Dreyfuss offers a cogent alternative in The Nation’s recent issue on Afghanistan. Dreyfuss’ plan is one of several less militarized courses of action that the US could pursue in Afghanistan. Unlike the military options, engagement and diplomacy are less costly (in oh so many ways), they are far less likely to provoke counter attack and are far more sustainable in the long run.

On this day for remembering the sacrifices of war, I hope for peace without expecting much.


Here's why America does not celebrate Remembrance Day on this date.

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Sunday, November 08, 2009

What Manner of Beast?

Dennis Kucinich (of course):
“Why is it we have finite resources for health care but unlimited money for war?.... Unlimited money to blow up things in Iraq and Afghanistan, and relatively little money to build things in the US.... Trillions for war and Wall Street, billions for insurance companies... When we were promised change, we weren't thinking that we give a dollar and get back two cents.”

More here.

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