Monday, May 31, 2010

Despair: What Comes Next?

So, we've had another failed terrorist attack and the Obama Administration has agreed to suspend the Miranda Warning in order to avoid the frightful results that didn't happen when we read the Miranda Warning to Richard Reid and Umar Abdumatallab. So why haven't I had any posts on the War on Terror lately? Despair, mostly. Glenn Greenwald enjoys flailing wildly in impotent rage. I do not. But what other options are open when the Obama Administration:

Orders the extra-judicial killing of a US citizen;

Retroactively legalizes telecom reps setting up shop in FBI office to bypass usual warrant requirements;

Prosecutes two whistle blowers when the Bush Administration never prosecuted any;

Issues procedures for military commissions the presiding judge describes as "only a marginal improvement, and which go beyond the Bush rules by forbidding credit for time served;

Escalates covert operations against Iran and resorts to new tricks to keep them unaccountable;

Makes no changes to Bangram prision in Afghanistan which is Bangran: worse than Guantanamo, and where two-thirds of the 600 prisoners are estimated to be innocent;

Etc. Etc.

It's not that I blame Obama exclusively. At least he's not quite as bad as Congress, which is passing legislation to prevent lawyers for Guantanamo detainees from offering any effective defense, seeking to forbid the release of any detainee even if proven innocent, and even discussing legislation requiring terror suspects (including US citizens) to be locked away forever in military detention without a trial.

Any one of these developments would once have inspired me to an outraged post. But now what is there left?

The unfortunate fact is that terror suspects have no political power, and are up against the combined might of the military, the intelligence community, and much of our domestic security apparatus. There is no political upside in acknowledging they have any rights the white man is bound to respect, and much in proving how "tough" you can be. Matthew Yglesias describes the dynamic well, "If you have an incumbent administration being urged by the opposition to seize more power, and the public wants the administration to seize more power, then you get what we have today." The current escalation in jihadi plots can only escalate this dynamic.

So is there any alternative to despair? Any at all? I see only one, and it is a weak one. But if more right-wing terror plots are thwarted, although it will not convince anyone that Arabs have human rights, it might at least convince right wingers to limit Obama's power lest it be used against them.

Mostly, though, I can only think of despair.

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