In a recent Supreme Court dissent, Justice Scalia (who will be speaking at the ACLU’s national membership conference next month in D.C.) said that if the U.S. had executed an innocent person, we would all know about it because it would be shouted “from the rooftops.” (In fact, in the last year-plus, four cases of potentially wrongful executions have been exposed by major American newspapers.)
There are so many things to shout from the rooftops these days that one almost has to create permanent residence on the roof. Here’s yet another: The Bush Administration’s plan for military tribunals for detainees held at Guantanamo Bay.
There seems to be a running theme this week: Who are we? Bob Herbert asks that question in today’s New York Times (subscription required):
We had elections in New York and around the country on Tuesday. But it seems to me that the biggest issue of our time is getting very short shrift from the politicians, and that’s the fact that the very character of the United States is changing, and not for the better.
Herbert goes on to discuss numerous issues, including some of importance for the ACLU and all freedom-loving people:
The president put us on this path away from the better angels of our nature, and he has shown no inclination to turn back. Lately he has touted legislation to try terror suspects in a way that would make a mockery of the American ideals of justice and fairness. To get a sense of just how far out the administration’s approach has been, consider the comments of Brig. Gen. James Walker, the top uniformed lawyer for the Marines. Speaking at a Congressional hearing last week, he said no civilized country denies defendants the right to see the evidence against them. The United States, he said, “should not be the first.”
And Senator Lindsey Graham, a conservative South Carolina Republican who is a former military judge, said, “It would be unacceptable, legally, in my opinion, to give someone the death penalty in a trial where they never heard the evidence against them.”
How weird is it that this possibility could even be considered?
The character of the U.S. has changed. We’re in danger of being completely ruled by fear. Most Americans have not shared the burden of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Very few Americans are aware, as the Center for Constitutional Rights tells us, that of the hundreds of men held by the U.S. in Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, many “have never been charged and will never be charged because there is no evidence justifying their detention.”
Even fewer care.
We could benefit from looking in a mirror, and absorbing the shock of not recognizing what we’ve become.
Andy in the HBG