Monday, July 2, 2007


There are more honor killings in Pakistan each year than there are detainees in Guantanamo. This is admittedly a comparison of disparate categories, but it does say something in general about the two respective cultures. What does it say? One culture takes those who are accused of a grave crime and isolates them, that they might not commit such crime again. Another culture takes the accused and sets them on fire. In neither case is a great deal of institutional concern spent on the issue of actual guilt. Suspicion is sufficient.

Someone might suppose that if a father's daughter held hands in public with a boy she was not married to, that father has the right to stone her to death. Maybe he'd cut her to pieces with an ax or a large knife. He might set her on fire -- being vegetarian, I personally would abhor the smell of burnt meat. Call me over-sensitive. Do you think such actions extreme? Consider the possibility that you are a hypocrite, and are ignoring the First Amendment. For, you see, in April, Pakistan mullahs issued a fatwa against the "great sin" of hugging. Freedom of religion, pig. Or does that only work one way? Your way. You are a slave to your indoctrination. Maybe the islamists are right. Did that ever occur to you?

On the other hand, the mercy that we have shown enemy combatants -- read "terrorists," or "those who fight on the terrorist side" -- reveals itself in the fact that they are not summarily shot dead on the battlefield, or hanged en masse shortly thereafter. This has always been the practice, with spies and non-uniformed "soldiers." It isn't a matter of civil justice. War is of a different order. It's not about right and wrong, as we soft civilians envision that concept. That's why it's called "war" -- where not much is certain, but what is certain is that the innocent will suffer. Because we are humane, we have rules even in war, for all that rules are for games. There is a contradiction here. We can accommodate it.

I said we show mercy. Might not be the right word. Mercy is, after all, a one-on-one affair. In large groups mercy might be called lawlessness. You might object that holding prisoners without a trial is lawless. I would counter that these are not civil criminals, but enemy terrorists. You would scoff at the designation terrorist as politically biased, and you'd say they are still subject to the rule of law. I reply that even legitimate POWs do not get a trial -- they are captured and held, and the military codes that apply are being observed. You say that not all "detainees" are captured on the battlefield; some are rousted out of their American homes in the dead of night, simply because they know someone who is suspect. I reply that if I see a man lure my child into his van with candy, I will not wait for 911. There is a level of common sense involved in living an adult life, which by analogy applies to societies in general, and specifically to societies at war. Some actions must be proactive, and appearance must sometimes count as reality.

We're both wrong, of course. Justice matters, and the rule of law. Survival matters too, and expedience and common sense. We must survive while remaining true to our principles. But we must survive, so that our children might live in safety and freedom. Being Moslem is no crime. On the face of it, Islam is reasonable. We of the small-l liberal persuasion might object to the second-class status of women, but that was the condition of American women within my grandparents' lifetime. We might shake our heads at the religious intolerance of so many Moslem states, but within my own lifetime there was a significant percentage of Americans who were denied the broad spectrum of their civil rights. We are shamed but not evil for these injustices. So might it be with Islam.

We have come far in remedying much of the imbalance of our civilization. In some ways we have become unbalanced in the other direction. We'll probably survive. That Islam has taken some of its doctrines to a sick extreme and thus made itself odious is no new thing. I seem to recall a little unrest in the first half of the last century -- something about a new religion in Germany that got out of hand. Who could be whiter or more Christian than the Germans? It's not race, and it's not religion. It's common sense and courage, and these are evenly distributed, in potential, to every race.

I told the story a while back about sitting on some stairs and listening to lies until I heard that they were lies. That's the spirit with which we have to approach Gitmo. We have to let the details seep through our emotions or our confusion, down to our precepts. We might still come up with a wrong conclusion, but that would be because our precepts are wrong, and to reform them is a matter of soul work that not everyone has the courage to face.

I do know something about institutional injustice. To be falsely accused and wrongly convicted and unjustly imprisoned seems a hateful thing, and almost unbearable -- not that I have necessarily dealt with such specifics. So I do see that a place like Gitmo is the point of a knife that can slash and vandalize everything that makes us special. But that's the case with any war. We fight so hard that we destroy the thing we fought for. Such second-rate ironies are beneath us though -- a tiresome relativism that we should have outgrown after our sophomore days. Adults come to conclusions and live with the consequences.

It boils down to this: everyone thinks they're right. We cannot let this immobilize us. Parents are not wrong to want the child molester halfway-housed somewhere outside of their neighborhood, for all that the molester has served his sentence. Hardly any right is absolute. It depends, I suppose, on the nature of the offense, and the harm that offense can cause. So with terrorism: it is to society what molesting is to families. It undermines in the most fundamental way every security and every possibility for happiness.

That's what it boils down to. How you think molesters should be dealt with. There is no argument here. Either you think they should be given another chance, or you think they have forfeited their right of freedom in a free society. Is the potential for injustice grave? Absolutely. So is the potential for harm. If you know, or have, a child who has been molested, or if you were such a child, your position should be predictable -- not that I have necessarily dealt with such things. We can forgive the harm done to ourselves. We have no right to expose the innocent to such risk. In any case, we do not equate child molesting with hugging or with holding hands in public.

Gitmo? We should have more of them. Every reasonable step should be taken to ensure the guilt of those who are held. But in a country where even the erased but digital trace of child pornography on a computer is enough to send someone to prison for many years (a circumstance with which I most certainly have not had to deal), it isn't a far stretch to suppose that those who associate with or approve of or support the cause of islamism -- which by definition is the cause of oppression and terrorism -- deserve every injustice that they might receive. A contradiction? An injustice that is deserved? I will not trouble myself with it. I am a father, you see. That is my precept, and I will not tolerate a certain evil, or those who wink at it. Suspicion is sufficient. Appearance is reality. Because the alternative is worse.

If you think otherwise, it would be because you are not a parent, or because you think my analogy false. We'll just have to disagree.



lmwkwhome said...

Wrongful imprisonment occurs all over the U.S.

It is unfortunately true that many innocent people are convicted, sometimes by prosecutors who bend the law (often by hiding evidence) to gain those convictions.

There is significant documentation of such improper convictions, in a series by the Chicago Tribune, in a study by Columbia Law School, in the book "In Spite of Innocence," and in the marvelous work of Barry Scheck and his colleagues in the Innocence Project.

My second novel, "A Good Conviction," tells the story of a young man wrongfully convicted in a high profile Central Park murder, brought about by a prosecutor who knew the defendant was actually innocent and hid the exculpatory evidence that would have led to a not guilty verdict.

Several prosecutors and appeals attorneys helped me with the legal aspects of a Brady appeal in New York State, and all of them agreed that what I portrayed was both realistic and all too possible.

If you go to my page ...

... you can learn more about my novel and others' reaction to it.


Jack H said...

Wrongful imprisonment occurs all over the world. Of course it does. It's a theme I've only touched on glancingly in these pages, but as I have vaguely opined, there is no justice. I get a bit more specific with the theme in my superb "Guilt" --

-- probably the best short story ever written.

I hadn't remembered that I'd talked a bit about the Duke "rape" case, but I found a few days ago that I had --

I might talk about Nifong sometime. My many admiring readers will have noticed that I enjoy a good evisceration now and again. Inflicting one, I mean.

Upshot is, civil courts have the highest social duty, of upholding civil justice. But just as a nation is a corporation set up and empowered to protect the rights and interests of its stockholders, its citizens, it is not the obligation of a corporation to ensure profit to the non-shareholder. We don't owe anything to illegal aliens, or to jihadists, or to anyone outside of our polity. This is not license to act negligently or criminally. Corporations, after all, function under laws, as to citizens, and nations.

The privileges that pertain to citizens, and the rights that pertain to POWs, are not owed to enemy combatants. Legal opinion is divided over this issue, but I think I've laid out the theory, allegorically, here.