Monday, August 31, 2009

Dim and dimmer

Yesterday we were regaled, if that's the right word, by a sometime writer for the National Post who presented us with a column on the Omar Khadr affair. His argument, in a paraphrase, was this: "It's worrying, perhaps, that Khadr has been held without trial for seven years, but the guilty bastard hasn't shown any remorse for the crimes of which he's been accused, and the media are treating him like a victim."

I had a few words to say about that, but will admit that I
almost felt sorry for him as a richly deserved thrashing was duly administered by sundry commenters here, from both left and right.. Notions of the rule of law, innocence until proof of guilt and so on were lobbed like missiles. But, like the hapless bricklayer in Gerard Hoffnung's immortal account, who suffered one injury after another until it all became too much, he "must have lost his presence of mind."

For today the "Raphael Alexander" entity speaks again.

Do not let his jejune style, his lack of anything remotely approaching logic, his deliberate misreadings, his small army of strawmen, put you off. If you want to better understand Stephen Harper's core supporters--the red-on-Fridays folk who hang around media comboxes spewing visceral dislike of people who aren't like themselves--it's a must-read. Think of it as a clinical exhibit, like the automatic writing of schizophrenics.

"Alexander" begins by asking why the Nuremburg Trials were so efficient in rendering verdicts and punishing the guilty, while today it is so difficult to "bring to justice those people responsible for acts of terrorism against the innocent." In the next breath he provides the obvious answer to his own question:

By the very clandestine nature of terrorism and guerrilla conflict, the enemy is a shadow whose motives aren’t known until the suicide bomber pulls his detonation device next to a group of women and children. The enemy does not wear uniforms to identify themselves as equals in a hostile war, which would grant them all of the provisions of the Geneva Conventions. The enemy does not leave forensic evidence of his misdeeds if he survives, and there are no witnesses to give testimony afterwards.

Well, no wonder that "enemies of our state" are sitting in Gitmo. "It should not be," says "Alexander." What about all that due process stuff, habeus corpus, human rights and so on?

We get a sense of what's coming next, as, in a simply magnificent Freudian slip, he declares: "We uphold the highest principle in law: guilty until proven innocent."

Indeed he does.

Given the glaring absence of a trial, how do we know these folks are guilty? Well, there's been a filtration process. In his words (I don't dare re-phrase in case someone thinks I'm twisting his meaning) the US, in the wake of 9/11,

apprehended thousands of suspects whom they believed could be enemies of the state. They interrogated them thoroughly. Tortured them. From the first few years of interrogation, they had narrowed down those people who were very likely terrorists, and those who had been mere pawns in the game.

Nothing like a few bouts of torture to separate the sheep from the goats. Just ask Maher Arar. In any case, after applying this reliable selection method, once called the trial by ordeal, we have precipitated out the present inmates of what he concedes is a gulag.

"But what choice did the United States have?" he weeps. "[W]hat choice did any of us have?"

The questions, however, are purely rhetorical. They are not meant to be answered other than with a nod of complicity. So we made a few mistakes--"what were the alternatives?"

Well, he's certainly not about to entertain any. Linking to my place, he falls back on his trusted weaponry of name-calling and lies:

The pseudo-left does not have an answer for that. He [sic] only knows that we must leave Afghanistan, and everything will be better for it. The pseudo-left even believes that perhaps supporting the Taliban might bring about the desired result of withdrawal:

“If the Taliban can kill enough of the foreign troops involved there and if that would force the governments of these troops to withdraw, then for that purpose one could support the Taliban.”

Speaking personally, I'm not particularly interested in what a Blogging Tory thinks is the "real" Left or otherwise. I assume that "real" leftists are those who agree with him, in which case, speaking as a leftist, I would have to say that they wouldn't be real leftists at all. But let us leave this semantic quagmire, and move on to his lies, which are of somewhat more consequence.

First, we do "have an answer for that," namely, the rule of law. If we want to prove that we're no better than terrorists, by all means let us cast such flimsy concepts aside. But if we're trying to uphold the banner of something better, then we are bound to apply the same standards of evidence, the same notions of habeus corpus and speedy trials and the right to a vigorous and thorough defence, to all. It is not the Left that favours Agamben's "states of exception," but the far Right.

The second lie is an alibi: it is intended to reinforce the foolish charge by the Islamopanicked that anything less than war, counter-terrorism, emergency measures, and the suspension of human rights amounts, not only to capitulation, but to active complicity with the murderous mediaeval fanatics who have gained a beachhead amongst oppressed populations around the world.

So let's have the other half of the quote:

If the Taliban can kill enough of the foreign troops involved there and if that would force the governments of these troops to withdraw, then for that purpose one could support the Taliban. One could wave their colors and wear their t-shirts and cheer the news of more blown up people. [emphasis added]

The writer is expressing disgust, as anyone who reads her entire five-paragraph comment can readily see, with the various rationales on all sides for killing people.

But "Raphael Alexander," fresh from this little bit of perfidy, goes on without a blush to talk about the "moral bankruptcy of the left," citing, unsurprisingly, his mentor Terry Glavin.

Then he offers this fresh bit of deceit:

These same people want the United States to set free men whom the government has seen fit to detain for seven years. But what motives do they have for this? Is it because they believe in the fundamental western liberal principles of habeus corpus? Or is it more likely that their long-standing hatred for the foreign policy of the United States has marred their sense of right and wrong? Is it really likely that the U.S. government would detain people at a great economic cost to themselves, innocent people, simply because they want to be vindictive? Simply because it pleasures them to strip away the freedom of men from the Middle East?

I'll let readers such as our conservative regular, Peter, wrestle with the straw men inhabiting that thicket of tendentiousness. "Alexander," of course, is quick to answer his own dishonest questions:

Such childish naivete can be deadly. Those men who remain locked away are certainly very dangerous. Even some long-detained enemy combatants who have been set free by the United States, returned to their occupations of violence, and killed and maimed more people. Some people see Guantanamo Bay as a test of our own moral codes as applied to our laws. If we do not free men who have been charged with no crime, what kind of people are we? In a simple black and white world, it would be easy to condemn our actions. But we know that most of these people, if not all of them, cannot be convicted in a court of law. In the simplistic world of the pseudo-left, it is more important to protect the freedom of such individuals than to concern themselves about the blood of the innocent spilled from their release. [emphasis added]

In a stunning reversal of tradition, the "pseudo-left" now supports the rule of law and today's hard-line conservatives are pleased to do without. The prisoners must be guilty, even if they "cannot be convicted." It took a hell of a lot of interrogation and torture to winnow the suspects down to a manageable few, and damned if we should just send 'em home after all that effort. Nuh-uh.

So whom do we protect? Those people accused of grave crimes, for which we have no evidence? Or those who may be the future victims of the dangerous people we release into this world?

For someone who objects to the alleged black and white thinking of the "pseudo-left," "Alexander
" doesn't give us much room to move here. If he would stop conflating "accused" with "guilty," however, it might well be possible to see his false dichotomy for what it is. But he goes on, and this is where we get, at last, to the nub of the argument:

Omar Khadr, the Canadian accused of killing an American soldier, may or may not be a future threat. But determining his guilt or innocence from an incident that occurred in smoke-filled firefight may never be possible. In time of war, we sometimes have to believe that the government will make the proper decisions on who they can safely release and who they cannot.

There you have it. The Left, insisting upon procedure and the rule of law. The hard Right, defending cruel and arbitrary actions by the state against individuals. It's through the looking-glass we go, folks, full-tilt boogie, in one godawful tangle of apes and angels and their age-old prey.


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