Sunday, October 01, 2006

Begging the question

Have you stopped beating your wife yet?

It's the stereotypical example of begging the question, of saying something that depends on an unanswered (and generally disputed) question.

Rather than answering the question, the question is avoided. Well, if you want to answer the real question, you have to confront it head on, and not just skip over it, hoping that no one notices.

"Why should detainees in the war on terror have any rights? Why should they have access to our courts?"

Is there a missing question? Sure there is.

What right does one nation have to grab the citizens of another nation?

To put it another way, if Spain were to do a snatch and grab on you, and put you in prison, what would give them the right to do so?

If the Spanish executive were to say "look, I've had my people look over this detention. My people are all good people, under my direct command, and they've all told me that we have good, solid intelligence that this detention is proper," would that make it okay?

It might make it okay under Spanish law; it might mean that no one in Spain could be punished for this gross injustice. Would that make it right? Would it be justice?

How about if you could be tried for your crimes with fewer rights than Spanish citizens? How about if you could be tortured in secret, and the torture could even continue in public, so long as it wasn't too terribly bad sounding?

Does this sound like anything we would stand for, if it was happening to us? Of course not.

So, shouldn't the nation that believes in freedom and justice for all hold itself to a better standard than we've adopted? Or is it okay to do it, because no one can stop us?

Is that how far we've fallen? Where we'll say that might makes right, even when it comes to justice?

Think about this: we're holding a man who was Osama bin Ladin's driver. He says it was just a job. If all he did was drive Osama around (and didn't, for example, drive him to a place where he could conduct acts of terror), it's pretty contemptible to help such an evil man even a little bit... but it's neither more evil nor more dangerous a crime than any other criminal act.

Timothy McVeigh and Terry Nichols had more rights and protections under US law than a man whose only crime was driving a car. One is dead; the other in jail, for the rest of his life, after the full set of protections under American law.

If the two biggest American mass murderers in US history deserve protection of the law, what says that a chaufeur doesn't?

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