Thursday, March 15, 2012

On warrantless executions, other executive barbarism, and pragmatism

At Politico, a Washington scandal-mongering website, Josh Gerstein asks "What if Bush had done that?" It's ultimately an intellectually dishonest and trivial article: any piece of writing that equates popular reaction to a president's sporting habits (Obama and Bush are both golfers) to the similarities between the two men's enthusiastic adoption of law-free detention and murder of the empire's enemies (or theirs) is part of the problem, not part of the solution. But the question still hangs out there.

We live in a sad time when only satire can convey some realities. Watch Stephen Colbert:

"Trial by jury, trial by fire, rock, paper scissors, who cares? Due process just means that there is a process that you do," Colbert said. "The current process is apparently, first the president meets with his advisers and decides who he can kill. Then he kills them."

Why aren't protesters screaming from the rooftops about this administration's adoption of pre-emptive permanent detention, about a verbal renunciation of torture that leads to no prosecutions of proud war criminals like Dick Cheney, and an assertion of a right to kill individuals anywhere in the world without any adversarial process? Certainly, these retreats from the rule of law and historically evolved norms of human social decency are as grievous as those of the previous regime. Where's the outrage?

Well, of course, there is outrage. There are a faithful few among the relatively respectable, like the National Religious Campaign against Torture and the ACLU. There are also protesters -- Code Pink dogs the appearances of the last set of rulers and reminds us to watch out for opportunities to carry our message to the next set. That's faithful.

But mostly, most of us are pragmatists. When the Bushites were in power, it was possible to believe the other sort were better. Now that we know that about wars, torture, and the rule of law this set are not better, -- though perhaps they are a little verbally smoother -- we turn our attention to other struggles. The current rulers are better than the previous lot in some respects: by and large they know the earth revolves around the sun and that women are human. This is not so clear among the Republicans. We do have to try to re-elect Barack Obama and as many Democrats as possible.

But there is no way to enter into that 2012 campaign with hope of change. We are holding onto a frayed civilization and a tired democracy, sinking rapidly into kleptocracy, wondering if our institutions can evolve enough to keep our heads above water (often literally.) And we chip away at barbarism where we can.

And we laugh at Stephen Colbert. Things are not as different from 2006 as we had hoped. But we've got no other planet to escape to, so we have to keep trying to make a better place of this one. Guess that's being human ...


Rain Trueax said...

Maybe I am wrong on this but I thought Obama didn't like it, said he wouldn't use it, but it was part of a bill and he wanted that bill.

Given that, I thought when those rights were first given away, that it would never be taken back. Freedoms lost aren't worth supposed security which was the argument. The problem Obama would have had to not sign the bill was that he was a secret Muslim and didn't want us to be safe. yada yada yada. I wonder if any future president will be on more secure ground and can do it or if this is just part of a country who didn't stand up for their rights the first time and are paying the price. Power is a heady thing to give up and they are always so sure they won't abuse it...

janinsanfran said...

Actually the power to kill "enemies" anywhere is something the administration is currently arguing for vigorously. Yes, Obama did oppose the recent "war" (they call it "defense authorization") bill's grant of the authority -- on the grounds he doesn't need Congress meddling in all this. And some Senators tried modify it.

But essentially we're running around like scared rabbits, willing to toss our historic freedoms, in pursuit of an entirely illusory security from enemies that couldn't make a dent in a genuinely confident nation. It serves all our politicians' purposes that we should instead think we need Daddy to take care of us.