Due Process, Dammit

14 June 2002

"War! Huh! Good God, y'all! What is it good for? Absolutely --"

Um. Absolutely everything we want it to be, evidently. (I can no longer hear that song in any voice besides Jackie Chan's, so it's much more fun than it used to be.) But I'm more than a little alarmed that there are lots and lots of government officials who do not seem to understand the concept of due process and why we want to have it around. And they seem to be using the idea that we're at war to try to justify whatever they want. It's the magic word: war. But we're at waaaaaar.

The Bill of Rights is not there because the Founding Fathers thought that it would be nice to have a few extra perqs available for being Americans. The Bill of Rights is there because the Founding Fathers thought that these were fundamental rights for human beings protect and respect for each other. And I agree with them.

From the AP article in the Merc: "The government also told [Senate Judiciarcy] committee members that Padilla fits all of the criteria of an enemy combatant because he allegedly met with a senior Al-Qaida official, learned how to blow up a dirty bomb, got training and financing and then came [back] to the United States with the intent to do harm. The Justice Deparment told that committee that the executive branch alone has the power to decide when a person qualifies as a combatant, an administration official said."

Does that last bit send chills down anyone else's spine? The executive branch alone has the power to decide when American citizens no longer have rights? It can't be appealed? It can't be disputed? It's just up to the executive branch? Failure of checks and balances, I'd say.

The key word in that paragraph is "allegedly." The reason we have due process -- and since some senators and congresscritters have shown that they don't understand this, I'll repeat it -- is to determine who has done what. To determine whether someone is actually guilty under the law. I'm not claiming that Jose Padilla is as innocent as a newborn babe. I'm claiming that we don't know, and that we owe it to him and to each other to find out before he's punished for his alleged actions.

One of the other questions this brings up for me is, well, why do we ever try anyone for treason, if this is the case? If the executive branch can decide that someone was doing harm and that the people he associated with were Enemy Combatants -- well, hell with treason, what crimes can't be argued that way? What about American street gangs, for example? I think it could be pretty effectively argued that they go counter to the government's goals and sometimes specifically to its personnel. They train and finance people to do harmful and illegal things. They are not a foreign government, and the members of them tend to be American citizens (though that's not universally true, of course). But some of them have ties with international drug smuggling groups that the U.S. Government would love to "get." So if someone meets with them and plots a crime, gets financing, shows up somewhere with intent to cause harm, well, the U.S. has a "war" on drugs, right?

It just sounds to me like the justifications are particularly poorly thought out. And start a really scary precedent. I'm never in favor of the U.S. Government (or any other government!) disregarding anyone's rights, but they've had a distinction between citizens and non-citizens from the start. Social contract stuff, I'd imagine. But this -- this is intolerable.

If there's anything the 20th century should have taught us, it's that war isn't "different" -- you don't get a free pass for what you want to do just because there's a war going on. Future generations will still judge your actions. Your own generation will still do so. And that's as it should be.

I've read lots of political novels that tried to talk about the rule of law over the rule of men. But we have to remember that the one is something that the other use. And if the men we interact with are not going to respect the rule of law, the law itself isn't going to leap up and bite them for it -- at least, not without some people "helping" it.

I'm not sure I believe in the rule of law as a whole, that firmly in the first place, actually. It seems like it's a really a good set of guidelines but that it encourages following the letter of a law, and following general laws regardless of whether they make specific human sense, and I'm not really in favor of either.

The alarming thing about this is how implausible it sounds to those of us who are professionally used to evaluating plausibility. Philip said he wouldn't have believed it. I think I would have, but I wouldn't have wanted to. That kind of disbelief frightens me, because it's a fairly effective tool -- if people will just ignore what's going on, then it will continue to seem unreal and nothing will get done about it.

I couldn't write a story about this. As Zed told me when he was critting "Fair Use," the fact that people in real life are talking like cartoon characters does not give my characters any excuse to do the same. He was right, too, and although he was talking about the DMCA and not due process issues, the same principle probably holds. But it does make me feel a bit helpless, not to be able to write fiction related to something that's got me going.

This is not really what I wanted to write about for my daddy's birthday. Happy birthday, Daddy, and happy Flag Day. I hope the rest of it is better than this.

Last year on Dad's birthday, I said that he's the one who wants to open his presents right away, if not sooner. Well, this year I was a bad kid and sent him his presents in a box with Mother and Grandma's Mother's Day presents. So he's had them around tormenting him for a month now. Evil child that I am.

Evil elf princess, right, Rob?

I'm telling you, people, it's been quite interesting to get feedback on what archetypes people think I look like. Quite.

I also have remembered some books I love and can't believe I forgot to list -- Bridge to Terebithia! After I'm constantly telling you people to go read that book, I forgot to even put it on my list! Also The Lord of the Rings, of course, and Catch-22, and Through the Looking-Glass (so much better than Alice in Wonderland). And the Oz books, the real ones, most of the twelve-volume series. There's a baseball player named Trot Nixon, and he confuses me, because Trot is a girl's name. And Doomsday Book and maybe Bellwether.

I think we've established that I'm fond of a few books.

I finished The Stress of Her Regard yesterday, and it was good-good. And now I'm reading Kate Wilhelm's The Infinity Box, a short story collection which is starting out well. I really don't know what today will look like. I have a couple of long e-mails that have been sitting in my box, needing to be answered. I have a novelette that can be edited if I want to get it out by tomorrow (ack ack, indecision!). And of course there are always things on the to do list. Always. I have to remind myself that some days, the endless nature of the to do list is encouraging, a bright and happy thing. Because some days it seems like every item is punctuated with an "Ack!" Even the ones that don't deserve it. "Order magazines for Mom and Grandma, ack! Index binders, ack! Make CocoWheats, ack!"

(See, I'm very picky about my CocoWheats. They have to be solid. I feel this way about most hot cereals. If I can't cut a bite off with my spoon and have the shape of the spoon stay in the cereal, my oatmeal/grits/other cereal is not firm enough. It is almost impossible to get CocoWheats that way the first morning. And I need my breakfast first thing in the morning, period. So I'll make my CocoWheats in the afternoon and stick them in the fridge, where I can carve hunks of them off for breakfast thereafter. Tidy plan, no? Ack!)

I had better get to the acks, I think. Have a good day and the beginnings of a good weekend.

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