Tuesday, October 17, 2006

"So this is how liberty dies..."

It may have been uttered by a fictional character, but the words ring loudly and the impact of that moment bears tremendous similarity to the reality of the previous passage of the USA PATRIOT Act and now the Military Commissions Act.

A common catchphrase in the United States has revolved around the idea that if we do nothing, 'the Terrorists have already won.' Meant to reinforce Edmund Burke's comment that "All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing," the phrase has taken on new and muddled life.

In standard parlance, it actually means that we cannot allow the terrorists to get away with anything, and that any and all sacrifices made to enable that are acceptable. Oddly, this is in direct contrast to another laudable historical thinker - Benjamin Franklin - who said, "Those who would give up essential liberty to purchase a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety.*"

America is experiencing an identity crisis directly tied to its leadership. For generations we have billed ourselves and believed ourselves to be the greatest bastion of liberty and justice in the world. Indeed, we prided ourselves on our tolerance, on our willingness to allow the guilty to go free in order that the innocent escape state injustice, on our position as the fulcrum on which the free world moved.

Certainly some of our previous wonder was hubris and myopia, and perhaps that is the root cause of our current problems, but the fact is that the United States is on a downward ethical slide and we can't find the brakes.

A smile crinkles his eyes every time Bush tries to say soberly, "I am doing this to protect the American people," and all the while he slowly strips away civil liberties and fundamental American freedoms in the name of security and safety. I talk to people daily who agree with not only his goals but his methods.

Perhaps the greatest irony is the comment Bush made, "We will answer brutal murder with patient justice."

This new Act strips rights from people previously protected by the Constitution. The Constitution of the United States has always implicitly protected all people coming into contact with the US legal system, polity or territory outside of military considerations. Now however, we eschew the previous American justice where people are innocent until proven guilty for something more strikingly Mosaic or Hammurabic. We will extract our justice (i.e. vengeance) in blood and oppression.

We can now skirt the Geneva Convention, the US Constitution, and common decency such as it is, to torture - I mean, coerce - testimony from a prisoner. We deny them the right to challenge their detention legally. We have fundamentally changed American justice and what it stands for.

No more is America the Land of the Free or the Home of the Brave. We have become shackled cowards who fail to realize that the terrorists won when we changed our way of life and altered our legal system to become more like them.

I can only pray this measure comes before the Supreme Court to be struck down as unconstitutional.

* Benjamin Franklin, Historical Review of Pennsylvania, 1759