Unclear on the concept
Posted by Charles II on December 13, 2008
Glenn Greenwald said many things that I agree with in his interview with Bill Moyers, especially this:
[Greenwald]: Because what happens if you allow serious law breaking to go unpunished is you’re telling political leaders, current and future, that there’s no need for you to abide by the law. There’s no reason for you to consider yourself constrained or limited in what you do. Because even if you commit crimes while in office, we’re going to be too afraid of creating divisiveness, that’s we’re going to allow you to do that. And you incentivize the political class, as they’ve been doing, to break the law at will. And the damage that comes from that is infinitely worse than whatever this divisiveness is that so many people are afraid of when citing why we should let these criminals go free.
[Greenwald]: Top Democrats were complicit in these crimes and assented to them. I mean, it wasn’t just the warrantless eavesdropping. …
All of the tactics that we’ve always said characterized tyrannies that used torture…. And according to all public reports, and they’re not denied by the participants, every single Democrat in that session either quietly assented to it or actively approved of it.
But I found myself shaking my head over
most some of what Greenwald said. It’s as though even now he only sees dimly.
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, if you go back and read the speeches that were given in the immediate aftermath after 9/11, the president that appears in that time period is literally unrecognizable. The emphasis was not on any of what ended up taking place. There was no sense of we are going to go to war with the Islamic world or start invading countries indiscriminately or creating gulags and secret prisons and institute a torture regime….
Really? This is what I heard:
In his speech to the Joint Session of Congress, Bush did not inform the American people of troop movements that he had made, nor of liberties which the Congress at his urging had rescinded or would soon consider rescinding. He did not tell them what the objectives of the “crusade” (for such he had called it) were, nor of the sacrifices that would be expected. He told them what they wanted to hear: that Americans are good people and would have no duties in this battle but live out their values.
I also pointed out that Bush had surrounded himself with Iran-Contra malefactors and that his party was using the occasion of 9/11 to loot the Treasury and strip us of civil liberties. The late Michael Kelly declared those who opposed unlimited war to be “objectively pro-terrorist,” a sentiment that was widely echoed on the right.
It took Greenwald until May of 2002 to figure out that something was seriously wrong.
BILL MOYERS: Was there a moment when what you lay what you have called “creeping extremism” became apparent to you in a minute particular?
GLENN GREENWALD: Actually, there was. And I’ll describe to you exactly what it was. It was in 2002 when Jose Padilla, an American citizen born in the United States on U.S. soil, was essentially abducted by the government – by the U.S. government. And it was – he was accused in a press conference held by John Ashcroft of being the dirty bomber….
Well, Padilla certainly was a grievous violation of the rule of law. But the lawlessness began with Bush v. Gore and a Supreme Court ruling that, by denying that it could be used as precedent in any other case, declared itself outside the law. It continued on 9/29/01 with a little-noticed incident involving Radio Eireann, the late Al “Grandpa Munster” Lewis, and Internet Service Provider Hypervine on the specious claim that Radio Eireann was a terrorist radio operation. Briefly, Radio Eireann broadcast (on WBAI) figures from the Irish Republican Army, an organization that had–and has– never been designated as an international terrorist group and with which, indeed, the US Government had brokered a peace agreement (there are splinter groups such as The Real IRA that are terrorist groups). By the mere threat of closing down Hypervine, the web content of unrelated parties including Al Lewis was summarily silenced, all without any semblance of due process:
A Hypervine representative read Mr. Towle a statement that, under an Executive Order signed by President Bush, the newly created Office of Homeland Security can seize all assets “without any notice … of any company or person that helps, supports, or does anything that can be called or labeled terrorism, or is found to be connected to terrorism in any way…”
This should certainly have been a clue. But in case after case thereafter, Bush made it clear he had no intention of being bound by law. By the time of the Padilla arrest, the descent into lawlessness and unaccountability was complete. Bush had brushed off the need for a 911 Commission. People were being rounded up illegally in this country, and kidnapped and tortured in Afghanistan. The Bush Administration had denied captives at Guantanamo designation as enemy combatants and placed them in legal limbo, while confining them in cages that exposed them to the elements, denied them basic privacy, and did not meet international standards for prison space. All this was widely known. For example, from February 27, 2002, DemocracyNow!:
Rabih Haddad’s case and the thousands of detained and disappeared in this country has caused barely a blip in mainstream public opinion or the US media in the prevailing mood of indulgence towards law enforcement agencies.
Finally, there was this statement that left me grieved.
BILL MOYERS: But wasn’t – isn’t Islamic extremism, any religious extremism – isn’t it pure evil?
GLENN GREENWALD: Well, I think clearly the people who perpetrated the 9/11 attacks or the people who just unleashed that terrorist attack in Mumbai and so many others over the past several years, if anything, embodies evil.
There’s no question that murder is an evil deed. But Moyers as an evangelical surely knows that he is misdirecting Greenwald, and Greenwald is seemingly blissfully unaware of the gaping trap into which Moyers delivered him. According to St. Paul, in a carefully considered analysis of evil, people can do evil deeds, but they cannot be evil (Eph 6:12).
This is a subtle, but critical distinction. The man who murders today may heroically sacrifice himself to save the life of a innocent tomorrow. To deny the potential (however slight and improbable) for good is to deny the freedom of choice, and thereby to make the one who does the evil deed a puppet. Puppets cannot be evil.
Moyers should also be reminded that the Puritans were religious extremists in their day, yet we regard them favorably. As long as people don’t bother others, we do not make moral judgments of their beliefs. It is in their behavior that we see good and evil.
Sadly, Greenwald’s understanding is unexamined, and so he easily slips into saying that this group or that “embodies evil.” He has the very Manichean perspective that has made the Bush Administration a failure in its so-called “war” on terror.
I don’t begrudge Glenn Greenwald needing a little longer to see the threat of the Bush Administration than others may have needed. I don’t disagree with him that the primary fault of the “war on terror” has been its arrogant belief that we are the good guys and whoever ends up in our prisons is a bad guy. He says a lot of things that I agree with.
But can we please be clear that, with the benefit of hindsight, Bush’s hijacking of the “war on terror” for wrongful, personal ends has been evident from the beginning?
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