Monday, April 02, 2007

Let my people go

Tonight is the first night of Passover, the week-long holiday in which Jews commemorate their liberation from slavery in Egypt. Passover is both a shared and an individual holiday: As the Bible says, each Jew should feel that he (or she) was freed. Or as is recited several times, "This is for what the Lord God did for me when I went out of the land of Egypt."

My family used a Haggadah (the book recounting the story of Pesach, or Passover) that was written during World War II, and it expresses the ideal of liberation that informed Jewish thought in the New Deal and the Second World War. As told there, the story of the Exodus is not just the story of the Hebrews' escape from Egypt, but all victories of freedom over oppression since: the liberty serfs won from their masters (some of those serfs, in Eastern Europe, enthusiastically joined in pogroms), the freedom of slaves freed from bondage all over the world, the freedom of workers from robber-baron bosses.

Today, the Supreme Court refused a chance to rule on the rights of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, hundreds of men who have been left behind barbed wire and bars for five years and more without trial and, in almost all cases, without even being charged. Two justices, Kennedy and Stevens, suggested that the prisoners might come back to the court after exhausting their other remedies (Congress has denied them all remedies except military commissions), or if the government were slow to charge them. Slow? What is five years if not slow? Recall that the Constitution contains a provision requiring speedy trial of criminal cases.

Is it coincidence that among the dissenters from this erev (eve) Passover decision were its two Jewish members, Justices Breyer and Ginsburg? I'd like to think not. I should like to think that their heritage informed their reasoning.

(Justice Breyer, dissenting for himself and Justices Ginsburg and Souter, simply demolished the logic of Stevens and Kennedy and, implicitly, the refusal by the court's right wing to even hear the prisoners' argument. Unfortunately, Justice Ginsburg refused to sign the portion of the dissent that would not only have permitted review, but would have ordered the case heard this term.)

No comments: