Monday, July 03, 2006

"Hampering our Ability" in the War on Terror

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales is one of several Bush Administration members and supporters who have criticized the Supreme Court's decision in Hamdan v. Rumsfeld, claiming that it “hampered our ability” to deal with terrorists. This, Gonzales claims, is a bad thing.

Yet, this leads me into the following chain of reasoning.

Fyfe: Mr. Gonzales. I think that you have to agree that when the founding fathers wrote the Bill of Rights that it hampered our ability to fight crime. I do not think that you will find a law enforcement official in the country who would deny that there are people running around free right now, and have been since this country was founded, who would have been in jail, if not for the bill of rights.

Gonzales: That would be correct.

Fyfe: So you would have to say that the founding fathers hampered our ability to fight crime.

Gonzales: That would follow.

Fyfe: And some criminals in this country are home-grown terrorists. From those who would assassinate a President such as Lincoln or Kennedy, to those who would take over an armory as John Brown did, or participate in the widespread terrorist acts during a period known as "Bloody Kansas", or participate in the KKK (which clearly existed for the purpose of terrorizing blacks and any black sympathizers), or plant a bomb on Wall Street, or blow up a federal building in Oklahoma, or plot to blow up the Sears Tower. These are all terrorist acts plotted by or carried out by Americans that fall entirely under the jurisdiction of the Bill of Rights.

Gonzales: I do not see how you can say otherwise.

Fyfe: So, the Bill of Rights hinders our ability to fight terrorism.

Gonzales: That seems to follow.

Fyfe: And whatever hinders our ability to fight terrorism is a bad thing, and those who do such things are friends of terrorists, and no friend of the American people or of the American government.

Gonzales: Wait a minute!

Okay, I have to say, I hate putting words in other peoples’ mouths. Gonzales would not likely give the answers I have attributed to him, though I do not see how he could defend any other answer. I suspect that Gonzales would claim that the founding fathers produced a great document and the Bill of Rights were a good idea, but the founding fathers also realized the wisdom of giving the President unlimited power in times of war or national emergency, such as we now face against the War on Terror. He would have to make this claim in the face of the clear evidence to the contrary already cited. But, then, simply ignoring evidence he does not like seems to be a particularly strong talent of his.

Now, I want to be clear – I do not think that it is valid to argue, “The founding fathers did X; therefore, X is good.” They supported slavery. Some owned slaves. All of them were at least willing to tolerate slavery for reasons of political expedience. They supported systems whereby only men could vote – and only men with land in some areas. They protested against English rule in part because they wanted to take the land west of the Appalachian Mountains from the Indians and England said that this was wrong. The Founding Fathers clearly stood for some things that were not, in fact, good and right and worthy of respect.

I endorse the principles that they established in the Bill of Rights entirely because I can provide independent arguments justifying those positions.

Yet, the basic facts remain as I have stated them.

(1) The Founding Fathers, when they adopted the Bill of Rights, took actions that hindered our ability to fight domestic terrorists.

(2) We must either conclude that the Bill of Rights was a mistake, or that sometimes it is not wrong to take action that hinders the fight against terrorists.

In fact, I would hold that the Bill of Rights does not, ultimately, hinder the fight against terrorists. It may hinder the fight against this or that terrorist in specific. However, I think that an argument can be made that they ultimately aid in the fight against terrorists.

Terrorists survive only as long as they can recruit new members. Recruiting new members is easiest when the target for terrorism can be portrayed as fundamentally evil and unjust. No country that follows the Bill of Rights can appear fundamentally evil and unjust. Thus, following the Bill of Rights is the best weapon we have against the terrorist aim of recruiting new members.

Ultimately, however, we must admit that the Bill of Rights was not written to keep us safe from domestic terrorists. The founding fathers had a far more terrible enemy in mind when they wrote the Constitution. They felt the need to keep us safe from domestic tyrants. History has indeed shown us that tyranny has done far more harm to the people of the world than terrorism could ever dream of accomplishing. Of the two, tyranny is, in fact, the greater evil. On this matter, the founding fathers were right.

If we were to send Gonzales back 225 years to the founding of this country, and we put into his mouth the words that he uses here and now, we can only imagine that he would stand opposed to our founding fathers. He would call them traitors because they were denying to this country the tools it needs to fight domestic criminals and terrorists. His words can only mean one thing – that Madison, Jefferson, Adams, Washington, and their associates were anti-American “liberals” who have no idea what it takes to make a great country.

From my perspective, Gonzales’ claims stand on a foundation of questionable merit.

1 comment:

Chris said...

I agree with the main thesis of this post, however I think this part is a bit overoptimistic:

No country that follows the Bill of Rights can appear fundamentally evil and unjust.

A country that follows the Bill of Rights or equivalent principles will rarely *be* fundamentally evil and unjust (if it applies those principles to everyone and not just to some favored group such as whites or males). That doesn't mean it can't be made to *appear* so by sufficient propaganda.

Essentially all terrorism today is religious. Religions' ability to ignore and defy facts and replace them with belief in whatever the religion advocates is well known. I'm not at all confident that *being* just is sufficient to stop people from *perceiving* us as evil and unjust.

It would certainly be a step in the right direction, though.