Archive for Sunday, January 6, 2008

Imagine the worst: It can happen here

January 6, 2008


The authorities would just come into your home, grab your mother, your brother, your dad, and take them away. No warning, no warrant, no appeal.

Thirty thousand people have disappeared that way, she told me. This was in an interview three years ago, and Ruth Cox was describing her childhood in Argentina under military dictatorship. Cox, a teacher in Charleston, S.C., said families never learned what happened to their loved ones. Or why. People were taken and that was it. The government was not accountable.

My first response was a vague pride that those kinds of things can't happen here.

My second response was to realize that my first response was naive. These last years have provided a jolting education in the sorts of things that can, indeed, happen here. Mass surveillance, detention without access to courts, no right to confront, or even know, the evidence against you, torture. And a government that is not accountable.

So last week's news that the Justice Department has launched a criminal investigation into the CIA's destruction of videotapes said to depict the harsh interrogation of terrorism suspects is welcome, but also belated, the very embodiment of the old saw about locking the garage after the car's been stolen. Though we have lost a lot more than a car.

And here, a line from a Bruce Springsteen song seems apropos. "The flag flying over the courthouse means certain things are set in stone. Who we are, and what we'll do and what we won't." Sadly, the list of what we won't do has narrowed dramatically since 2001.

It's telling that a number of politicians have lately cited as their model on terrorism issues Jack Bauer, the counter-terrorism agent on the TV hit "24," who routinely tortures the truth out of bad guys as the clock ticks toward catastrophe. It's not hard to understand the appeal. There's a certain atavistic attraction to the Jack Bauer method, an attraction that bypasses the head en route to the gut.

Too bad, because had the head been asked, it might have pointed out that Jack Bauer is a fictional character on a TV show not noted for its realism. Using him as a guide to terrorism makes about as much sense as using Barney Fife as a guide to law enforcement.

And the very fact that Jack Bauer is invoked in the most crucial policy debate of our time tells you something about the state of the union going on seven years after the Sept. 11 attacks. In a word: scared.

There is nothing new about being scared. Nor about abridging civil liberties in response. It happened in the civil rights movement, in the Red scare, happened when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor, when the nation plunged into World War I, when John Adams was offended by the French.

But it's worth noting that, for all the illegal wiretapping, arrests, detention, blacklisting, censorship and loss of life this country has seen in the name of fear, only one major abridgment of civil liberties in time of national emergency - Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War - stands justified by hindsight.

The rest, we regard with a shamefaced fascination. We wonder what we were thinking, how we wandered so far afield from the principles that should make us great.

We'll wonder this time, too.

And me, I also wonder this: are we doomed to keep learning the same lesson every generation? Or will we finally decide someday to stand for what we stand for even - "especially" - when we are scared? That kind of courage might not stop terrorists, but it could cripple "terrorism."

Because violence that intends to instill fear is not the only threat we face. We are also threatened by the fear itself. Fear is the enemy of reason. Fear can leave you fundamentally changed.

It can't happen here, I said.

But of course, it already has.

Leonard Pitts Jr., winner of the 2004 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, is a columnist for the Miami Herald.


freeordie 10 years ago

When are these writers going to realize that people don't care about freedom anymore. Do you?

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 10 years ago

"Get over yourself. You're far less intelligent and knowledgeable than you think you are."

Clearly the posts on this thread indicate that at least I know far more than you do, kozakid.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 10 years ago

Why shouldn't I hate Bush, RT? (you've never come close to giving even a bad reason to "love" him, so my expectations of anything different from a poorly informed, uncritical sycophant like you are extremely low.)

Frederic Gutknecht IV 10 years ago

r_t, admit it. You are a tiny member of the Dick conspiracy!~)

Frederic Gutknecht IV 10 years ago

You look insanely ugly in brown, r_t. Change your shirt

Ragingbear 10 years ago

I'm in ur country, steeling ur old peepol.

Frederic Gutknecht IV 10 years ago

right_thinker says: I love the smell of recycled propaganda in the morning

Seriously, dude...You're the only one smelling it. You know what they say...

Dealt it much?~)

ASBESTOS 10 years ago

Same thing is happening in Laredo and all along the southern border.

The administration has ignored our border security and along with the previous administration has sold our jobs and manufacturing bse to C hina, South and Central America.

Jason Bowers-Chaika 10 years ago

Be Afraid, rinse and repeat, Vote Republican or die. 911, 911, Iraq, rinse and repeat. WMD, WMD, be afraid, Vote Republican or die.

As long as the radical right wing can convince us that we are constantly under attack, we will fork over anything they demand. We will even torture in the name of Jesus and the American way and euphamistically call it "enhanced interogation".

Vote democratic or you'll wish you had died.

BigPrune 10 years ago

How can anyone forget when Clinton would sick the IRS on people who were against him? Or, how the IRS had a group of people scouring the pages of every newspaper looking for letter to the editor critics of the IRS - so they could go audit the letter writers? ALL before GW.

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 10 years ago

"That's nothing. FDR did four times that number when he and Harold Ickes locked up 120,000 Japanese-Americans."

As lamentable as the detention of Japanese-Americans was, it isn't remotely comparable to the "disappeared" of Argentina and other Latin American countries. Since you appear to be ignorant of what that entailed, "disappeared" is a euphemism for the governments' detention, torture and eventual murder of its political opponents.

And while there is some similarity between Pitts's ending lines and Roosevelt's "the only thing to fear is fear itself," I think it's quite a stretch to say that Pitts' was in some way invoking FDR or his statement.

Dorothy Hoyt-Reed 10 years ago

RT, you and the vast majority of posters must have a lot to hide, since you post anonymously. Are you afraid to stand by your beliefs in real life?

Erin Parmelee 10 years ago

dorothyhr (Dorothy Hoyt-Reed) says:

RT, you and the vast majority of posters must have a lot to hide, since you post anonymously. Are you afraid to stand by your beliefs in real life?

Amen to that!! I can't for the life of me figure out why people who seem to think what they have to say is so important, are so afraid to stand behind their own words.

Erin Parmelee 10 years ago

right_thinker (Anonymous) says:

When/if I really have something to say to the general public, I put my name on it. Not everyone is an internet user- the blogosphere largely is a happy haven for far-left loons to bilge their W and Dick conspiracy theories and insanely paranoid rants.

This reads like an admission that you in fact, have nothing to say. (Don't blame the messenger!)

just_another_bozo_on_this_bus 10 years ago

"This reads like an admission that you in fact, have nothing to say."

RT really has no need to admit that which he demonstrates with each and every post.

moo 10 years ago

No one dislikes you, RT, just everything you stand for. You know, love the sinner hate the sin. hehe.

Basically, the contention that anyone who doesn't want the government listening to or filming their every move "has something to hide" is so ridiculous that it would be laughable, except that people believe it. Say you are a perfect citizen; you pay all of your taxes, you follow every single law on the books, and no matter how long you're stopped at a red light on an empty road, you will never run it (and no one is THAT perfect); you might STILL get goosebumps at the idea of some agent listening to all of your phone calls or watching you while you shower, all without a warrant. Say you, RT, were to make an offhand comment on your cell phone about hating Hillary's guts and wishing she'd just drop dead (not a large stretch). Next thing you know, you're being brought in for questioning and charged with plotting an assassination (that is if you were lucky enough to actually be informed of the charges, since you no longer have any right to know them.)

Privacy protects everyone, left and right. If you are truly doing something worth watching, the government can get a warrant and then tap your phones. Requiring warrants for this type of stuff protects the good guys, but not the bad ones (sorry for the oversimplification, some folks here need everything in black and white). Oh ya, and warrants are required by the Constitution, that document that we are taught to love and admire since first grade. Seems like some of you missed elementary school.

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