Friday, November 20, 2009

hannibal lecter's zombie army invades new york

I started writing these blog posts (and their email predecessors) to keep my head from exploding during the Bush years. I thought I could get on with my life and largely ignore politics with President Obama and a Democratic Congress in control. Not that there wouldn't still be ego, idiocy and corruption and the inevitable frustrations and compromises of the legislative process. And President Obama was bound to disappoint the stratospheric expectations of him. But at least the crazy right could largely be ignored as essentially inconsequential.

But I underestimated the crazy right and its deafening noise machine. In retrospect, the fullness of its craziness had been constrained over recent years by the need to defend the actions of the Worst President in History. Paranoid conspiracies and fantasies of Nazi communists under your bed are harder to sustain when your team controls all the branches of government (including the secret prisons and torture chambers). Now liberated from any actual responsibility for governance, the crazy right has become crazier than ever. If the peace, prosperity, record budget surpluses and small-government deregulatory policies of the Clinton administration caused the right to become totally unhinged, we should have known that it would only escalate with an African-American president coming to office during the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression, inheriting trillion dollar deficits and two wars going badly.

Now that the Republic has survived the existential crisis of President Obama urging school children to work hard and stay in school, the grievous insult to America represented by President Obama's Nobel Peace Prize, and the great debates over whether President Obama's gift to the Queen of England was insufficiently respectful or his greeting to the Emperor of Japan too respectful, we can return to the real passion of the paranoid right -- fear mongering.

Did you know President Obama is planning on bringing Hannibal Lecter to New York City to stand trial? He goes by the name Khalid Sheikh Mohammed these days, but his latest disguise can't fool us. No maximum security prison can hold him. The moment he steps foot in the United States, he will use the hypnotizing, x-ray telepathic superpowers he honed in the caves of Afghanistan to overpower his guards, flee to Iowa and gnaw on the bones of elderly white Faux News viewers. His legions of zombie soldiers will march in to New York from ... somewhere and ... do something. Hannibal Mohammed and his zombie army have restrained themselves over the past six and a half years while he was being tortured in secret prisons, just waiting for the ultimate provocation -- access to the American judicial system. That was the final straw -- now they are really mad.

Or something like that.

(I guess we should have seen this coming when President Obama ended the practice of torture. Legal due process and public trials were only a matter of time. That’s just the kind of thing a fascist socialist would do.)

Once again, New Yorker Jon Stewart has risen to the occasion. It is hard to improve on
this segment. This clip really is a must-see.

The Daily Show With Jon StewartMon - Thurs 11p / 10c
Law & Order: KSM
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(Stewart had another good take on the subject
here at about 3:25 into the segment .)

I particularly like his exchange with Samantha Bee, including this bit:

Stewart: You fear then for the safety of New Yorkers?
Bee: Of New Yorkers? Listen, those guards aren't there to protect us from Khalid Sheikh Mohammed.
...
Bee: I don't trust the media. They lose their [deleted] during trials that don't matter. They are not ready for this.
...
Stewart: Maybe they learned a lesson. Maybe they won't get so obsessive.
Bee: Yes, I imagine they will keep themselves flexible because you never know when they'll have to drop everything to follow a balloon that may or may not have a boy in it.

Stewart also does a great job contrasting recent statements by fearmonger-in-chief, Rudy (“a noun, a verb and 9-11”) Giuliani with those he made in 2006 supporting the Bush administration’s successful prosecution of the “20th hijacker” (one of several “

20th hijackers” actually) Zacarias Moussaoui in federal court in Virginia. Indeed, this is ultimately the most concise refutation to the parade of fears now coming from the right: We are not operating in a void of experience here. This has been done before. Moussaoui was convicted in a civilian court in the US and now sits in the “supermax” prison in Florence, Colorado (along with 1993 World Trade Center bomber Ramzi Yousef, attempted shoe bomber Richard Reid, Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Atlanta Olympics bomber Eric Rudolph, Oklahoma City bomb conspirator Terry Nichols, FBI traitor Robert Hanssen, Jose Padilla, and a host of other charming folks). The world didn’t come to an end. But, of course, the right didn’t come unhinged then because Bush was president and the right-wing noise machine (e.g., Faux News, the Wall Street Journal editorial page, Weekly Standard, National Review, Washington Times, etc.) and Republican politicians weren’t engaged in any of the fear mongering they are now.

New Yorker Josh Marshall had a good post on the subject . He respectfully notes the three main lines of attack on the decision to try KSM and others in New York:

Let's start with the idea that civilian trials have too many safeguards and create too big a risk these guys will go free. This does not hold up to any scrutiny for two reasons. First, remember all those high-profile terror prosecutions where the defendants went free? Right, me neither. It just does not happen. The fact is that federal judges are extremely deferential to the government in terror prosecutions. And national security law already gives the government the ability to do lots of things the government would never be allowed to do in a conventional civilian trial.

He then dissects each of those arguments:
Let's start with the idea that civilian trials have too many safeguards and create too big a risk these guys will go free. This does not hold up to any scrutiny for two reasons. First, remember all those high-profile terror prosecutions where the defendants went free? Right, me neither. It just does not happen. The fact is that federal judges are extremely deferential to the government in terror prosecutions. And national security law already gives the government the ability to do lots of things the government would never be allowed to do in a conventional civilian trial. ...

Finally, even in the extremely unlikely case that any of the five were acquitted of these charges, the government has a hundred other things it can charge them with. Indeed, the government could as easily turn them over to military commissions or indefinite detention post-acquittal as it can do those things with them now. That may not make civil libertarians happy. But it is the nail in the coffin of any suggestions that these guys are going to be walking out of the federal courthouse in lower Manhattan saying they're headed to Disneyland. It's simply not going to happen.

(Some might say so what if KSM is acquitted. Just set him free in Times Square with some advance publicity.)

Marshall goes on to the second argument:

Next we have the question of danger to the people of New York City. ... [J]ust on the facts I don't think al Qaeda terrorists are holding off on attacking New York now because they lack an incentive or feel we haven't pushed things far enough yet to merit another hit. The symbolic value of hitting New York might increase a bit. But it's already so high for these people that the increase seems notional at best. And more to the point, I choose to trust the people already charged with keeping the city safe.

On a more general level, however, since when is it something we advertise or say proudly that we're going to change our behavior because we fear terrorists will attack us if we don't? To be unPC about it, isn't there some residual national machismo that
keeps us from cowering even before trivially increased dangers? As much as I think the added dangers are basically nil, I'm surprised that people can stand up and say we should change what we do in response to some minuscule added danger and not be embarrassed.

Finally, there is the fear of what KSM and other defendant's might say:
I cannot imagine anything KSM or his confederates would say that would diminish America or damage us in any way. Are we really so worried that what we represent is so questionable or our identity so brittle? (Some will say, yes: torture. The fact that some of these men were tortured is a huge stain on the country. But it happened and it's known about. To the extent that it is a stain it is the kind of stain that is diminished not made worse by an open public accounting.) Does anyone think that Nuremberg trials or the trial of Adolph Eichmann in Jerusalem in 1961 or the war crimes trials of Slobodan
Milosevic and others at the Hague advanced these mens' causes? Or that, in retrospect, it would have been wiser to hold these trials in secret?

At the end of the day, what are we afraid these men are going to say?

What we seem to be forgetting here is that trials are not simply for judging guilt and meting out punishment. We hold trials in public not only because we want a check on the government's behavior but because a key part of the exercise is a public
accounting and condemnation of wrongs. Especially in great trials for the worst
crimes they are public displays pitting one set of values against another. And I'm troubled by anyone who thinks that this is a confrontation in which we would come out the worse.

Two top officials in the Bush justice department, deputy attorney general Jim Comey and assistant attorney general Jack Goldsmith, have a good piece in today’s Washington Post defending the decision to try KSM and others in New York.

In fairness, the right has not been unanimous in its fear mongering on this subject. To my considerable surprise, anti-tax godfather Grover Norquist joined David Keene, founder of American Conservative Union, and former Republican representative and presidential candidate Bob Barr in a public statement saying that moving suspected terrorists to as US prison, "makes good sense," and that, "The scaremongering about these issues should stop." (Grover Norquist has now joined
Newt Gingrich and Pat Buchanan as a voice for moderation within the Republican Party? Is it only a matter of time until someone outflanks Sarah Palin and Glenn Beck?) It's hard to improve upon their statement :

As it moves to close Guantanamo and develop policies for handling terrorism suspects going forward, the government should rely upon our established, traditional system of justice. This includes our system of federal prisons, which have repeatedly proven they can safely hold persons convicted of terrorism offenses.

We are confident that the government can preserve national security without resorting to sweeping and radical departures from an American constitutional tradition that has served us effectively for over two centuries.

Civilian federal courts are the proper forum for terrorism cases. Civilian prisons are the safe, cost effective and appropriate venue to hold persons convicted in federal courts. Over the last two decades, federal courts constituted under Article III of the U.S. Constitution have proven capable of trying a wide array of terrorism cases, without sacrificing either national security or fair trial standards.

Likewise the federal prison system has proven itself fully capable of safely holding literally hundreds of convicted terrorists with no threat or danger to the surrounding community.

The scaremongering about these issues should stop.

...

But most of all it makes sense for America because it is a critical link in the process of closing Guantanamo and getting this country back to using its tried and true, constitutionally sound institutions.

Somehow the Republic has managed to survive for 230 years with due process of law. In fact, until a few years ago, who knew that indefinite imprisonment without legal due process at the unchecked discretion of the president was really an option?

UPDATE:

Leave it to Tom Tomorrow to sum it up in a few cartoon panels:

[click to enlarge]

2 comments:

lister said...

get this on lister's radio show ... come on...

lister said...

come on lister's radio show...