Tuesday, March 18, 2008

We're Different, Aren't We?

I was raised in a very patriotic family. Mormons, as a whole, tend to be patriotic. Our house had a picture of Captain Moroni and the Title of Liberty in the entryway. If you've never read his story, then I highly recommend it even if only as a morality play and not history. Mormons also believe that no less than God directed the founding fathers of the United States of America to separate from the European tyrants and found a constitutional republic founded on reason, inalienable human rights, and free enterprise.

My father was also a Vietnam veteran who flew combat missions and had friends who spent years in North Vietnamese prison camps where they suffered torture. I read books about the horrendous human rights abuses of the communists as they tried to use torture to extract confessions of war crimes and the evils of the American empire. I also read books by Soviet dissidents about the horrible human rights abuses inside that country. I also read histories of various World War II campaigns and the inhuman treatment our captured soldiers received at the hands of their captors.

The U.S. concept of universal human rights has always been one of the distinguishing characteristics that distinguished "us" from "them." It has always seemed apparent to me that a large part of what makes our country great is its respect for human rights and the preservation of those rights through the rule of law.

So, I find myself appalled when I hear our leaders, sworn to uphold to Constitution, talk about rights as if they are matters of inconvenience that get in the way of fighting whichever "war" they happen to be fighting at the moment. Which war is it today? Which will it be tomorrow? Organized crime, alcohol, drugs, communists, liberals, conservatives, socialists, Christians, atheists, Jews, Muslims, terror, hate, guns? We haven't recently had a war on some of those things, but there isn't much difference between the ones we've had wars on and the ones we haven't beyond the vagaries of public opinion.

I see talking heads on TV trying to justify what they euphemistically call "stress positions." I'd never seen pictures, but now I recognize some of the torture positions I read about in the Vietnam war. How about water boarding where we effectively cut off a persons breathing with water to simulate drowning? Who knows what else our government is doing that we don't know about. Why are we so outraged when our citizens are treated in this way and in that case argue at the ineffectiveness of torture? Why do U.S citizens have a right to not be treated in this way, but other citizens of the world lack such rights?

How about basic rights to face your charges and the evidence you in open court? Why is that a uniquely U.S. right? Sure, it's protected by the Constitution, but at one point in time our country understood that rights do not originate from any document or government but are innate. So, why should we be able to deprive people of freedom without any evidence or due process? At what point is the government able to extend its treatment of "terrorists" to domestic "terrorists" and who gets to define the terms. By the way, whats to prevent the government from using "stress positions" or other "harsh" interrogation methods to extract "confessions" and thus violate the right against self-incrimination? Why do non-citizens lack these rights that are supposed to be protected for citizens?

The answer, of course, is that what is good for U.S. citizens should be good for everyone. I'm willing to allow some latitude for temporary suspension of those rights in battlefield situations where the exigencies of the situation prevent normal due process, but at some point there has to be a way to convict the guilty based on actual evidence and to exonerate those for which inadequate evidence exists.

I'm sickened by what the current state of affairs says about the erosion of the foundational freedoms of this country and the corrosive effects of the so many so called wars we are fighting that seem to be little more than an excuse to justify the use of more and more power.