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To the Guillotine
I listened to Mr. Obama’s speech addressing the Chrysler Bankruptcy. I heard his harsh treatment of those who did not come to the table and sacrifice their investments. He cited hedge fund manager – and I understood. What has come to light since then is that some of those “holding out” were investors who simply could not afford to lose their investment.
When you are sixty-eight and the income from your Chrysler bonds is the difference between a marginal existence and one where you have a little enjoyment the terms imposed would be harsh indeed. Why did we castigate these people? Is there some perception that the investor class is uniformly rich and can afford large loses? Are these the people that have been greedy and holding down the middle class – the ones our new president wants to ante up?
In the same week, we hear cries from the media and a certain set of politicians that the harsh interrogation techniques employed on Al Qaeda operatives demand punishment of not only senior members of the previous administration but also those low level civil servants who administered the techniques. Some how a large group of us has jumped directly to punishment while bypassing the trial. In fact, it is not clear exactly what the crime is.
The problem comes back to a strong policy disagreement as to whom exactly we are dealing with. Are they criminals and entitled to the full protection of our laws? If so then a trial may be appropriate. However, historically the Geneva Convention has not been clear as to the status of individuals such as our Al Qaeda captives. Historically they have been treated as enemy combatants within the framework of the Convention. We have in the not to distant past summarily executed a number of such individuals. I cannot think of treatment more harsh then the deprivation of ones life.
Both of these events have a common element –the desire on the part of some to impose their perceptions of the “right answer” by seeking summary punishment of those with whom they disagree. In both cases retrospectively. The very notion is frightening. Carried to the extremes it will tear us apart.
Unfortunately, I see an increasing shift to such retrospective criminalization. If you have a big house or you drove an SUV, you are a Carbon Criminal and should be punished by abruptly charging you special fees or limiting your ability to maintain your property. No matter that what you did was perfectly legal, appropriate and even encouraged at the time. This is a form of punishment that is imposed without due process.
In fact, it seems to me that the very people who proclaim that we failed to provide due process, as they understand it, to our Al Qaeda captives are those who demand that those who have a life style with which they disagree should be punished without any form of due process. It is probably just me – but it sure does sound hypocritical and may even represent an embryonic form of despotism.