4/15/2002

 

A Dangerous Mindset

 

I have criticized the presidentís methods of battling terrorism before, but I would like to get to the root of why those mistakes are made. This is not an indictment of Bush just for being conservative, but of a particular mind set of some conservatives. The point can not be made clear in a few sentences, so in this column Iíll state what harm the mistakes create, and in subsequent columns Iíll give the history that leads up to that mind set.

 

The mistakes are all on one theme, that the president has battled terrorism by means contrary to the very freedoms we want to protect. Most of what he has done has been correct and Iím glad heís done it. But there are important details that will have adverse consequences.

 

The expanded investigative powers, the holding of suspects for months without due process, the dragnet questioning of people who simply look like they might be a suspect, are all mistakes. They send the signal that rights are a luxury that can be suspended when times are tough. How can we then pressure dictators, battling guerilla fighters in their hills, to grant rights to their citizens?

 

The refusal to acknowledge the Afghan prisoners as prisoners of war, and the tribunal system, mean that convictions will be questionable. There are a lot of potential young terrorists in the world who will watch how we handle this. We want these convictions to be impeccable.

 

In the future we will have a zealous anti-terror group searching to find the next suspects. Weíll likely have abuses such as a Middle Eastern man with the same name as some suspected terrorist held for years because weíre not sure if heís safe to release. Some mom-and-pop newsletter thatís critical of U. S. policy, and has the bad luck to sell a subscription to a suspected terrorist, will have their assets frozen for having links to terrorists. This would not be new. Weíve had our FBI try to discredit Martin Luther King Jr. We even now hold Cuban immigrants for years without due process.

 

Note that none of these complaints are whining for better treatment for prisoners (though if youíre an innocent immigrant caught in the net, itís a serious matter). Rather, all these mistakes have consequences for our individual and national self interests.

 

Most smart people of both liberal and conservative leanings appreciate how easily rights can be whittled away, whether itís gun rights in one case, or rights of the poor in another. In the way terrorism is being fought I donít see that appreciation in the actions of leaders such as Bush, Cheney, and Ashcroft. Why? Next time Iíll get into that.