Monday, January 5, 2009

How Does Accountability to Law Turn into Giving Terrorists "New Rights"?

Rachel Alexander, co-editor of the "Intellectual Conservative" website, has written a new piece entitled "Terrorists' Rights Versus Crime Prevention". Considering I have written about the issue of torture and the treatment of detainees quite a bit recently, the topic of Alexander's piece intrigued me, but as I continued to read further, the vague language and broad characterizations that Alexander uses in her source-free piece only worked to confuse many issues that have become hot topics over the last few years.

Alexander begins her piece:

Civil libertarians, including prominent conservatives like Rep. Ron Paul and former Rep. Bob Barr, have made loud objections to the U.S. government’s efforts to counteract terrorism in the wake of 9-11. In particular, they have protested the detainment and interrogation methods used on suspected terrorists at Gitmo, wiretapping, and other methods of surveillance. They don’t represent the majority of Americans, many who privately say anyone involved with terrorism should be executed. They don’t dare say this publically since the law has evolved over time to provide those accused of crimes certain privileges, labeling them “rights.”

She claims that the majority of Americans privately say that anyone involved with terrorism should be executed, but provides no source for this claim. By her own reasoning, a source wouldn't even exist for this claim because as she states, this is a feeling that Americans privately hold. This leads to the question of why Americans are hiding their "true" feelings. Why won't Americans say this publically? Alexander says that this is because the law has evolved over time to provide "those accused of crimes" privileges that have been labeled "rights" (quotes are hers). If that reasoning didn't make one bit of sense, then take a number.

Alexander continues that some of these "rights" (again, the quotes are hers) make sense in order to make sure that the United States doesn't imprison the wrong people, but that there is a "line where these specified additional 'rights' for suspected terrorists begin to infringe upon the rights of innocent Americans. " At this point you may be wondering what additional "rights" Alexander keeps citing and how they specifically infringe upon the rights of Americans. It is a puzzling question because Alexander does not lay out a clear example of these new rights to which she refers, but she does give some hints at what she views as a problem.

She blames "liberal activist judges" since the 1960's for creating new "rights" for criminals that make it very difficult to interrogate terrorists and get information out of them or "detain them for very long." She complains that we have to "coddle them", "read them their right to remain silent" and "supply them with a U.S. taxpayer-funded attorney to represent them". She goes on:

Without the ability to obtain any information from them, it becomes difficult to justify detaining them without violating their (new) “rights.” So even though we all know the Guantanamo detainees have been aiding and abetting terrorists whose sole goal in life is to kill U.S. citizens, we pretend that the U.S. Constitution includes all these additional “rights” for terrorists and their aiders and abettors, ultimately enabling them to continue their attacks upon U.S. citizens.

Again, without any specifics as to what she means by "new rights", Alexander makes the very false and very misleading argument that the prisoners at Guantanamo have been aiding and abetting terrorists and that since "liberal activist judges" afford ambiguous new "rights" to terrorists, they are able to continue their attacks upon U.S. citizens. This flies in the face of the fact that a majority of the detainees at Guantanamo have never been charged with a crime nor have then been subjected to any sort of open or speedy trial at which any evidence can be presented. Assuming that those held at Guantanamo were all aiding and abetting terrorists is simply false and claiming that releasing detainees enables them "to continue their attacks upon U.S. citizens" is blatantly false. In fact, this study that was done by a Professor at Seton Hall found that a very few number of released detainees fought against Americans.

In addition to Alexander's opinion that "liberal activist judges" are giving terrorists new "rights" at Guantanamo, she also points out that civil liberties activists are also trying to take away the governments ability to wiretap and spy on terrorists within the United States:

Another criticism of left wing civil liberties activists is that the surveillance is authorized to search communications within the U.S., not just overseas. Again, this doesn’t take into account reality, which is that many terrorists are now operating within the U.S. as sleeper cells, and others have friendly enablers in the U.S. helping them coordinate their attacks. All of the 9-11 hijackers were in the U.S.

I wonder if Ms. Alexander has heard of the term "probable cause" which is something that allows law enforcement to obtain a warrant if they would like to monitor potential illegal activity within the United States. I also wonder if Ms. Alexander remembers the protections that were once issued by the FISA legislation of 1978 which made it a crime to spy on American citizens without a warrant. Amazingly enough, Alexander proposes a "better approach" rather than try and "proactively restrict" the power of the government. Alexander proposes:

...give the laws on terrorism as drafted by Congress a chance, and then if an abuse does occur, where the government spies on someone with no connections
to terrorism, revisit the law and determine what changes should be made to
prevent those abuses.

The ignorance of this statement is astounding. The FISA legislation of 1978 was enacted by Congress and was violated by the Bush Administration after September 11th when the New York Times uncovered that the Government had been secretly spying on U.S. citizens. In order to remedy this situation, the Bush Administration pushed for (and received) a revision of the FISA legislation that would not only expand their eavesdropping powers, but effectively grant retroactive immunity to telecom giants that participated in the program. In other words, we gave the laws drafted by Congress a chance, abuses that Alexander specifically describes occurred, the law was revisited, and changes were made that allowed the Administration and telecom companies to avoid accountability to the original law. This scenario already happened, yet Alexander pretends like civil liberties advocates are unfairly and proactively restricting governmental ability to "keep us safe". Not only that but she states:

As long as the U.S. is the freest democracy in the world, there is little chance that our government is going to turn against its citizens and spy on them. As long as we have free elections and are electing free market, pro-democracy leaders, these kinds of abuses are unlikely and would be an exception should they occur.

In Rachel Alexander's world, there is little chance that the government would spy on its own citizens, but in the real world, it has already happened. Alexander even calls spying on Americans "abuses", but what she thinks is an exception, was enacted into law. Instead of condemning these abuses becoming law, she justifies them on the grounds that these laws are needed so that they can be applied to "new technology"; this is something which Glenn Greenwald did an excellent job of examining and shooting down in posts like this one.

It is embarrassing that so many mistakes, misleading, and outright false statements are circulated daily in order to attempt to justify such obvious law breaking by the Bush Administration. Whether we are discussing the FISA legislation or basic adherence to rules of internationally recognized law that surround the treatment of prisoners, the theme is the same. This theme of the last eight years, is that elected officials are perceived to be above the law. They are able to act with impunity without fear of prosecution, even when it is painfully obvious that serious crimes have been committed. These lawbreakers must be quite proud when they see pieces like the one by Ms. Alexander which imply that those who do not endorse policies which result in the torture of prisoners and spying on Americans, are somehow affording "special rights" to dangerous terrorists. This type of discourse is perverted and indicative of how backward this country has slid. It seems strange that we are debating whether prisoners should be tortured or whether the government can listen in to our phone conversations, but in Ms. Alexander's post 9/11 world, adhering to the basic rules of law are translated into infringing on the government's ability to keep us safe. How Orwellian.

This article can also be found at:

No comments: