Tuesday, October 11, 2011

How Archy Deals with Heinous Crimes II: Summary Execution

The recent killings of Osama bin Laden and Anwar al-Awlaki—I will use the government versions of both events here, since I want to hit Uncle Sam's best pitch and these narratives present him in the best possible light—show us that government by its very nature cannot act morally, should not be expected to, and has every incentive not to.

Having been overseas for twenty years until weeks before, I had only recently heard of Osama bin Laden on 9/11, but I had heard enough to be fully on board with the pastor of the church I attended the following Sunday when he said that if Osama bin Laden were to come to his office to hear about Jesus, he would wrestle him to the floor and call the authorities. (I think he said he would present the Gospel first and wrestle him to the floor afterwards no matter how Osama responded.) That is, "everyone knew" he was a "bad guy," and we all assumed that he was guilty of 9/11.

We didn't know, or at least I didn't, that he had been a CIA operative in the 1980s, though I should have, since there had been rumblings from feminists in the 1990s that the Taliban, who had been the "heroic mujahedin" we all got behind as they fought against the Soviets in the 1980s, were mistreating women, so I did "know" that the Taliban was up to no good. Taliban, Osama, let's kill them all, I thought. And we did.

That Osama and the Taliban were bad guys and in cahoots was front-page news. The back-page news was that after 9/11 the Taliban offered to hand Osama over to a neutral party for trial, but the Bush regime didn't agree to the deal. As I'll explain, a trial by a neutral party would have required a lot of work, but it could have saved countless lives ("We don't do body counts," at least not on gooks).

As I explain here and here, the archist view of a trial pits a defendant, someone either rich enough to afford a lawyer who can get him off whether he's innocent or not or someone who is stuck in jail and therefore unable to gather exculpatory evidence, against a state that pays the judge, the prosecutor, and the policemen whose testimony carries more weight than that of mere mundanes; the system has a vested interest in finding the defenddant guilty, certainly more than in rendering a just verdict based on truth as can best be established. If the Taliban are decent human beings, would they want to surrender a long-time comrade in arms to such a system? Surely their reluctance to do so is no proof that they are brutes.

The alternative would have been for the Taliban and the Bushies to sit down and draw up a list of people who could give both sides a fair hearing. Surely out of eight billion people on this planet there is someone who has a reputation for fairness, someone who would be strong enough to stand up to the bullying that both sides would engage in without becoming a bully in turn. Perhaps it would have been a Muslim leatherworker in Bosnia and his Orthodox wife. Or three Vietnamese Buddhist monks who had suffered under both the US puppet regime and the Communists. Or the Afghan woman whose picture was the most memorable National Geographic cover of all time? Or Vin Suprinowicz's Omani judge? How long would it have taken to find one person or a group of persons that both sides could trust?

This process would probably have taken months, but there's reason to believe that had justice, rather than victory, been the most important goal for even one side, the result would have been better than the senseless mayhem that came instead.

Am I the only one who thinks it's ironic that after all the billions of dollars that were spent invading Afghanistan, a financial hemorrhage that will not been stanched for the foreseeable future, it was a surgical operation costing a couple of million dollars at most that eventually took Osama out? If "we" had been willing to wait a while, this or a similar operation could have taken place without the billions of lost dollars, to say nothing of the thousands of deaths and millions of other casualties.

All this assumes that Osama was indeed guilty. What if he wasn't? Summary execution, the ethic of "shoot first and ask questions later," makes those questions irrelevant, doesn't it? Only agents of archy, who are almost universally granted impunity by their bosses, would consider this a good system.

Then there's the execution of Anwar al-Awlaki. At least one Muslim jihadist wonders if he was a CIA asset: “Al-Awlaki is not known for having participated in any ‘jihad’ whatsoever and this is what has to be highlighted. For he calls to it and hypes up his audiences with it, yet the question has to be asked: upon which battlefield has he fought?” That he was an incindiary speaker and an enemy of Uncle Sam seems to be well established. But wasn't anti-government speech precisely what the First Amendment is supposed to protect?

"Mission creep" is at work again. First it's OK to summarily kill someone in the act of killing another. Then it's OK to kill the guy certain people in the government say killed an innocent person. Then it's OK to kill the guy who was driving the getaway car. Then it's OK to kill the guy who bought the getaway car. Now it's OK to shoot the guy who convinced the third guy to buy the getaway car.

All this without trial.

We now have a KGB-style system in which anonymous government agents use evidence they share with no one to dispatch more anonymous agents to kill or imprison whomever they choose, all with impunity, all with no legislative or judicial supervision. All any of us needs to do is get on the hit list, and we're defenseless. Romans 13 says, "If you've done nothing wrong you have nothing to fear," but remember that the author of those words had been stoned and scourged, and was eventually executed, by the very authorities he described.

Given archy, how could it be different? Jobs that involve the exercise of power with impunity will draw workers who enjoy exercising power with impunity. And self-preservation being a basic human characteristic, these workers once hired will be most interested in preserving their positions of power and privilege. Yesterday they were content with responding forcibly to those who either initiated force or whose threat to use force was credible. Now they are killing those whose words they find threatening.

(Yes, I realize the the legal definition of assault includes credible verbal threats. Verbal threats need to be taken seriously, but I would suggest that the way to take them seriously is to see if they are symptoms of a legitimate grievance, questions neither "law enforcement officers" nor government diplomats seem to be interested in asking.)

If you're happy with the way things are, archy is the way to bring about more of the same. If not, you need to question your basic assumptions, chief of which is the assumption that our interests are served by an elite that can initiate force with impunity.

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