CIVIL RIGHTS & TERRORISM

There is an interesting debate going on in this country. The question is whether or not susected terrorists should be granted the civil rights available to the rest of us.

It's a good question. One side says that terrorists are our enemies, and are out to destroy our very way if life, so they shouldn't be able to reap the benefits of American civil rights.

Some people on that side of the question also argue that "enemy combatants" shouldn't be granted civil rights even if they're American citizens. After all, if they're fighting against America, they shouldn't get the benefits of American civil rights.

Some other people on that side of the question also say that no non-citizens should get the benefits of American civil rights. Those are reserved for Americans.

At first glance, much of this makes sense.

At second glance, however, it's not difficult to see that few of the people making the above arguments have stopped to consider what "civil rights" actually are. As we've seen in other situations throughout this book, the answer is muddled because the question is badly framed.

There seems to be an underlying assumption in the debate that granting a suspected terrorist civil rights means we're going to let him go. Or that we're going to go easy on him.

This is complete nonsense. In fact, it's so nonsensical that it's a wonder that people who argue in favor of civil rights for terrorists and enemy combatants haven't taken pains to point out why the debate is so wrong-headed. If they did, we might be able to change the nature of the debate to something more productive.

Affording suspects civil rights doesn't mean we're going to let them go, and it doesn't mean we're going to go easy on them. All it means is that we're going to do what we do for (almost) every American citizen who stands accused of a crime, which is the following:

1- We're going to make sure a crime was actually committed.

2- We're going to make sure we got the right guy.

 

That's it. That's all of it. So what's wrong with that?

Well, you might say, "It wastes court time to do this for non-Americans, and it costs a lot of money, and it delays justice."

To that I say, Gee: Do we want to risk punishing the wrong guy to save time and money? How do we know he's really guilty? Because the government says so? The military?

I don't trust the government or the military to decide who's guilty. The Founding Fathers didn't, either. That's why they made due process the cornerstone of American justice.

Nobody in power gets to decide who's guilty without due process. It would be un-American to allow it.

Granting civil rights to a suspected terrorist just means we're going to make sure there really was a crime and that we got the right guy. Once that's done, we can go ahead and punish the hell out of the guy in good conscience. Do it any other way and you start down the path that lets some vindictive bureaucrat come after you just because he feels like it.

By the way, the reasons I said "almost" every American before is because of John Walker Lindt, the kid who converted to Islam and was captured hanging out with the Taliban in Afghanistan. Even though he's an American citizen, the U.S. government declared him to be an "enemy combatant," then tortured him and forced him into accepting a 20-year prison term even though it isn't clear he did anything wrong.

Whatever you think of Lindt, it would have been nice to see him tried in an open court. What if the government was wrong and he wasn't really an enemy combatant?

What if the government decides you are an enemy combatant?

It's not like the government hasn't made any mistakes before.

Civil rights is nothing more than making sure we did the right thing, which is a pretty good thing to do no matter whom we're dealing with.

 


from: A Practical Guide for Everyday Living, by Lee Gruenfeld
* Copyright 2005 by Steeplechase Run, Inc. - All Rights Reserved

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