I was previously a constitutional law and civil rights litigator and am now a journalist. I am the author of three New York Times bestselling books -- "How Would a Patriot Act" (a critique of Bush executive power theories), "Tragic Legacy" (documenting the Bush legacy), and With Liberty and Justice for Some (critiquing America's two-tiered justice system and the collapse of the rule of law for its political and financial elites). My fifth book - No Place to Hide: Edward Snowden, the NSA and the US Surveillance State - will be released on April 29, 2014 by Holt/Metropolitan.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005

Teaching Iraqis about Freedom

The Powerline bloggers are among the Internet's most enthusiastic, vocal and resolute supporters of the U.S. war effort in Iraq. We have often heard from them -- and from so many others -- about how important and glorious it is that we are sweeping away authoritarianism in that country and helping the Iraqis build a free and democratic society that respects human rights and will serve as a shining and inspiring example to all of the other Muslim countries in that region.

Today, Powerline's John elaborated on his vision for the new law-abiding, human-rights-protecting society we are establishing in Iraq:

It's good that Saddam has finally been put on trial, although it may have been better yet if he had simply been shot. The idea that his crimes need to be "proved"--as though there were some doubt about them that could be resolved through a "trial"--is ridiculous.

John Derbyshire, writing in The Corner, shares this desire to forget the silly little trial thing and skip right to the good part - Saddam's execution:

Saddam's half brother shouted 'Why don't you just execute us!"

Well, why don't we? This preposterous "trial" is the worst possible advertisement for the rule of law. Saddam should have been taken behind a tree and shot as soon as his identity had been ascertained. The performance he's putting on here, even I am starting to like him. A few more weeks of this and they'll be putting up statues to Saddam all over the Arab world. What a stupid farce.

Let freedom ring! What's with all of this due process/fair trial pussyfooting around we're doing? We need to take people whom we know are bad and bring them out back and shoot them in the back of the head. Trials are for weak, subversive losers. The reason why our efforts to bring democracy to Iraq and to the Middle East have been stalling so miserably is because we haven't had enough summary executions.

(And no post from someone on the pro-war Right would be complete without a gratuitous whiny complaint inserted about how biased and unfair the pro-Saddam media is. John graciously provides it:

That's what I find disturbing about the proceedings in Iraq. They have value in that Saddam's horrific crimes are revealed; or, more accurately, his long-known crimes are recited in a forum where it is hard for the American media to avoid mentioning them.

See, up until now, when the media is finally being forced to report it as part of this trial, the media had been suppressing all of the bad things that Saddam did. That's why -- until the trial started last week -- we hadn't ever heard anything about Saddam's gassing his own people or his rape rooms and his psychotic sons or any of that. Thank God for this trial so the American media is finally forced to report that Saddam did a lot of bad things) .

If someone believes that there is no need for us to create a free, democratic Iraq -- and that, instead, what is important is simply to install a strong government that will promote U.S. interests, even if that government is tyrannical -- they should just say so. After all, that is a position which has long been quite acceptable to advocate and one need not be embarrassed or try to hide it. Indeed, one could suggest that that viewpoint has been one of the driving principles of U.S. foreign policy for the last four decades, adopted by every Administration of both political parties.

But this ongoing pretense on the part of some who insist that we must bring democracy and freedom to Iraq -- while they, at the same time, advocate summary executions, dismiss as irrelevant growing reports of Government-sponsored Shiite death squads, and ridicule concerns about the pervasiveness of torture, among other things -- is really getting to be a bit absurd.

One would have thought that it would go without saying that shooting people in the head without a trial is a tad inconsistent with trying to show the world that America is serious about its pledge to bring democracy and human rights to Middle Eastern Muslim countries. After all, even Adolph Eichmann and every other top Nazi official captured alive after World War II were given scrupulously fair trials before they were executed. Doing so not only created an incomparably valuable and indisputable historical record of Nazi crimes, it also quite critically highlighted the profound difference between the West and Nazis, including the fact that the West does not punish or execute people until they are convicted of crimes in a trial.

Then again, one would have also assumed that it would be unnecessary to point out the fundamental inconsistency of preaching democracy and human rights while simultaneously torturing people in Saddam Hussein's old prisons, abducting and secretly detaining suspects for interrogation in black prisons and rendering to countries notorious for human rights abuses, and indefinitely incarcerating American citizens in military prisons without any pretense of due process. And one would have been wrong about that, too.

Beyond Iraq, the notable, and quite disturbing, thing is that these calls for less and less due process and more and more summary punishment are voiced with equal (and sometimes greater) fervor when it comes to dealing with American citizens in the U.S. The justification for this war (at least what became the justification once all of the other justifications became hopelessly discredited) was that we would export our democratic values and respect for human rights to Saddam's Iraq, but along the way, a reversal seems to have occurred and it is Saddam's values which are being gradually imported to the U.S.

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