Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Still Chilling

After more than five years of outrages against both the spirit that built this country and its very Constitution, I fear that I have become jaded. Not that I accept those horrors, but that I assume a distanced lawyer's view, analogous to the doctor who discusses the painful, life-threatening condition of his patient as if it were a problem on paper.

So on some level I am happy to realize that I can still be chilled by a report such as the one in The New York Times, about the detention of two American civilian contractors in Iraq--one of them a whistle-blower who was working with the FBI to uncover illicit doings in his employer's business, including the trafficking of arms to death squads.

Donald Vance, a Navy veteran, was held at Camp Cropper, the prison for the most dangerous detainees in Iraq, for more than 3 months. While his imprisonment and interrogation did not include the abuse--i.e., torture--visited on non-American prisoners in that country, Afghanistan and Guantanamo Bay, his treatment clearly violated allowable standards for any constitutional system of justice.

The cases of Vance and another American who worked for the same contractor were reviewed by "Detainee Status Boards," in proceedings straight out of Kafka. My favorite line in the Times' story is that, "defense lawyers are not permitted to attend [board hearings] because the hearings are not criminal," according to a Pentagon spokesperson. Leaving aside the grammar--which says more than the spokesperson wanted to reveal, when imprisonment in conditions worse than you could find in any prison in the United States is not the subject of a criminal proceeding, you know you have entered a world never contemplated by the Framers except in nightmares.

One small but particularly chilling fact is that Vance and the other American, Nathan Ertel, were taken into custody in the American Embassy in Baghdad. As Embassies are considered to be within the territory of the nations they represent, the two men were subjected to detention without Constitutional rights even though they were American citizens detained on American soil, just as if they had been arrested on Pennsylvania Avenue, in front of the White House.

As regular readers of this blog know, I believe that the Constitution applies to every action undertaken by the US government, anywhere in the world (or in outer space, for that matter). So the fact that Vance and Ertel were subjected to evil treatment is not, morally or legally different than what is being done in our name to prisoners across the globe. Still, there is something especially chilling at the arrogance, insensitivity and brutality that would treat Americans in this way.

Thanks to George W. Bush and his retinue, we have built a record of disgrace that will require a cleansing effort that, if it will not rival what was done in Germany and Japan after World War II, must at least exceed what Latin American nations have done to remove the remove the stains on their honor implanted by military juntas in the last half of the Twentieth Century.

(Further thought: What I did not mention in this post is that tremendous damage is being done to our military, our intelligence agencies, the Justice Department (which must try to justify the excesses being committed in the nation's name) and the entire government system by the systematic violations of our Constitution and international law. This harm will require much effort and a long time to repair.)

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