Thursday, May 28, 2009

‘Prolonged’ Detention Lesser Evil, Still, Evil

President Obama’s proposed preventative, or to use the President’s word ‘prolonged’, detention program that was outlined in his national security speech last week has rightly generated a lot of controversy. It is controversial. Unfortunately, much of the criticism so far is misplaced. The pronouncement of the program was largely met with speculation of doomful hypothetical situations – anything from the totalitarian detention of thought criminals to the end of the justice system as we know it. What is more, this speculation has come from all sides of the political spectrum – liberals who are afraid to confront reality and conservatives who are not even capable of that confrontation. The reality is that a ‘prolonged’ detention program may be the only moral choice left to rectify a long series of immoral policies.

Let us start with the fact that we only know a couple of things about the proposed ‘prolonged’ detention program, which are these: Obama only referred to ‘prolonged’ detention in regards to current Guantanamo detainees that are determined a threat and are unable to be tried (for reasons we will get to later); and that it will be a system that will include periodic review and the involvement of all three branches of government. If these are the sole parameters of a ‘prolonged’ detention program then such a program should be welcomed across ideological lines. This scenario seems to be the most likely outcome of a ‘prolonged’ detention program if only because it is what the President indicated, “I want to be very clear that our goal is to construct a legitimate legal framework for the remaining Guantanamo detainees that cannot be transferred.” Obama is a gifted lawyer and as such very thoughtful in his choice of words. If he goes against them and expands the scope of any ‘prolonged’ detention program beyond “remaining Guantanamo detainees that cannot be transferred”, then cries of abusive expansion of authority will be justified. Until then it is imperative to take account of the situation that is and not cloud our judgments with situations we fear.

As much as it pains one to advocate the seeming abrogation of our Constitution and indeed the fundamental human rights of potentially dozens of people, our commitment to the protection of innocent lives must outweigh our commitment to absolutist legal principles, because even human rights can be conflicting. I have advocated against the detention of prisoners at, and indeed the existence of, the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, and the use of torture, since these violations of U.S. and international law were first committed. That doesn’t change the fact that they have happened. It also does not change the fact that over seventy Guantanamo detainees released so far have gone on to fight against American troops or commit acts of terror. No doubt some, if not the majority, of these former detainees were completely innocent at the time of their capture or rendition, just as there is no doubt that many more innocent people were tortured and remain captive at Guantanamo Bay today.

Let us be clear, ‘prolonged’ detention in whatever form it takes would only be applicable to people who are innocent of any crimes, because anyone with a shred of evidence against them would at least be given a military tribunal. But over the course of seven years of torture and the close comradeship of very guilty Al Qaeda members it is likely that some, not necessarily all, of these innocent people now have the singular intention of committing terrorist acts upon release. I don’t want the government imprisoning people by way of determining who ‘is likely’ to commit terrorist acts, especially people that have not even committed a crime. But clearly the situation at Guantanamo Bay is exceptional. Anti-torture advocates, I among them, argue that torture creates terrorists, and in that argument we are generally only referring to people recruited to Al Qaeda by the mere thought of it. Actual victims of torture are understandably even more likely to engage in terrorism toward the society that allowed them to be tortured if only for retribution.

Despite being routinely misled about security threats for the past eight years, we still have the rational capacity to determine if our government is misleading us. We also still have professionals that are fully capable of competently assessing a security threat. If it is judged by a competent authority that some of these innocent (or not so innocent) victims pose a grave danger to the safety of other innocent people then that judgment has to be sufficiently damning. Arguments that favor upholding a legal principle in the face of any mitigating circumstances don’t account for reality.

The fact is that we do preventively detain people who have been determined a threat – people with mental illness. Mentally ill people who show signs of violence or violent ideation are detained indeterminately all the time with no serious objection. This is done because it is necessary to keep people safe and there is no viable alternative. It is unwelcomed and it is miserable, but it is reality nonetheless.

If, in the very peculiar and sad circumstances of Guantanamo Bay, intelligence experts and psychologists determine some of the innocent detainees are indeed threats to the lives of themselves or others, then it is the duty of the American government to keep them in detention for as long as they are deemed dangerous. This does not mean that they need to be imprisoned forever - indeed after more humane treatment and rehabilitation it would be likely that many could be released in the future. It also does not mean that it is preferable, if there is not a grave threat then innocent detainees should be released, as they have been. But in cases where a grave threat is posed by a detainee then there is no moral argument to release them, only to do harm to themselves or others. This should not be an easy determination. It should be done through the most rigorous procedures available. This should not even be simply deliberative. This should be painful as hell and we should all be very ashamed that it has come to this. But this should demonstrate all the more the necessity of bringing the perpetrators of the crimes that have led us here to justice.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

Together Through Modern Times

This is cross-posted from One Year In Texas

The album Together Through Life felt like watching Woody Allen act in Picking Up the Pieces alongside Andy Dick and Fran Drescher, and liking it. Sure, he had already done Small Time Crooks, but that was in the past right? And David Schwimmer was in the prime of his career! It was something I anticipated (admittedly much less so [than Together Through Life that is) and it left me with the uncomfortable task of having to apologize for when the crap that was on the screen (metaphorically) hit my grandmother’s cerebral cortex (my grandfather had fallen asleep before the movie started). Even the most challenging and interesting songs on this album are drooping with schmaltz, which I recently learned is a real thing (pure animal fat used for cooking…). Case in point - Life is Hard. It is the only song on the album that I didn’t feel like I heard at the Cajun Fest’ in Amana, Iowa, bobbing back and forth with my deep-fried corn on the cob (seriously) next to drunken hay-bailers, dream-catcher dealers and biker chicks widowed by Army Reservists (and my wife and child, and I honestly enjoyed Cajun Fest’ [and deep-fried corn on the cob]…). But still I felt like it didn’t say anything that Bob didn’t already say better on Oh Mercy.

I saw that Jolene was on the track-list and was actually excited to hear a Dolly Parton cover for the first time since I camped out in front of the theater at the opening of The Bodyguard. Alas, even though it was not an actual cover it felt like a fake cover of something not even worth covering. “Baby I am the King and you is the Queen”.

At this point I want to put in the disclaimer in rock criticism that I have always been waiting to read but have not yet seen – that no matter how harsh my criticism is, I can never make anything worthy of licking the nose of this album or even the worst album that Bob Dylan has ever done (and this is still far from that). This is an amazing contribution to the art form of music and will change the landscape of… you get the idea.

But still, is Hell really your wife’s home town Bob Dylan? Jeez she sounds pretty awful then. Or are we supposed to feel sorry for her? I can’t tell because I was too busy shaking my hips to the twelve bar blues.

I like the idea of having to walk right if I ever go to Houston. But when he started talking about when if I ever go to Dallas, I could only think about Patrick Duffy and Larry Hagman and about how I better pioneer the TV series Dream Season.

Beyond Here Lies Nothin’, Forgetful Heart and It’s All Good are all brooding, foreboding and existential in scope. But at the same time they’re all smaller than what Dylan accomplished with his last three albums. It’s All Good may deal with the end of the world, but it does it in a way that makes it sound like a 70-something-year-old man is trying to communicate in a hip manner with teenagers, and not in a cute way like when he referenced Alicia Keyes in Thunder on the Mountain. Beyond Here and Forgetful Heart deal with powerful issues but they come out through the device of romantic melodrama. And that’s hard to get past. Especially since he didn’t make us get past anything with recent doomful tomes like Aint Talkin’ and High Water.

So this was a horrible disappointment. But still a great album. And by far the best album of 2009! I can’t wait to see Dylan live one more time. Stay alive Bob! I loved the album, really.