One can't simply hear someone's views on an issue and accurately determine a person's core beliefs. Though it is not unusual for someone's belief to be easily decipherable from their spoken views, there are smarter people than simple populist ragers or banner waving activists. To understand someone's views, you need to understand their principles.
Theories of Liberty and Rights, and My Beliefs
Liberty and rights are separate things, but tend to be used interchangeably. Liberty is the freedom to act or believe without being stopped by unnecessary force. Rights are permissions or entitlements that are protected by legal code. The core belief of modern Western nations is that of individual liberty and the protection of that liberty through individual rights. From the US to Canada to England to Germany to Poland, despite the collectivist nature of many Western governments, the freedoms of the individual citizen is still a important concern to these democratic representative governments. Each nation has a different set of freedoms that they protect through specific legal rights, but overall the Western style of governance and common culture is the freest in the world.
Concepts of liberty span individualism and collectivism, from the most absolute individualism of anarchists to the hardened material distribution theories and flattened equality of communism. For example, to individualists the government implementing redistribution of wealth violates the freedom of people to make a living. To collectivists, the individual accumulation of power and wealth from the labor of others violates a person's ability to improve their lot in life. Both believe they are fighting for freedom, yet for two contradictory goals.
When it comes to liberty, I am an individualist for the most part. I believe in the individual rights spelled out in the Bill of Rights, private property, free markets, democratic tools in governance and the separation of church and state (to the extent that no religious institution controls government, not that religion and government should be separated literally, as that is impossible and alienates a majority of citizens). I believe man works best when left to his own devices (which includes allowing gays to marry as they wish) and only needs a “night watchman” domestic agenda in most cases to keep order. The ironic thing about big government, I believe, is that there is more room for civil unrest the more the government interferes with the lives of citizens. The less government is involved in the personal lives of its citizens the less likely the citizenry will be driven to reactionary politics against any kind of governance.
There are those who proclaim things like health care and housing as rights. These are not rights, but products. Unlike the right to speak freely or the right to own firearms if you wish to purchase one, nowhere in the Bill of Rights does it state that an American citizen has any right to a product. There is no amendment protecting the right to apples or oranges. There is no right to a hospital bed next to the right to a fair trial. There is no Housing clause next to the Equal Protection clause. There is no right to a product because that would mean the labor of another is owed to you simply by your existence. To have your labor indentured to another against your will and enforced by a government is economic slavery. Economic slavery is obviously not in the best interests of a society based on the protection of freedom.
The New War
While I am individualist when it comes to the domestic policies of the United States, I believe that upon the world stage the nation must take a more collective approach. A nation cannot be at war with itself if it is to project its power and stand tall against its rivals. It is simple idiocy to go to war against an agreed upon enemy one year, only to have the opposition party turn tail and very publicly accuse the President of lying to go to war the next year. It is a position of weakness to promote pacifism at home only to wish to act tough when you hold the reigns of power. While meant to be the glue between the states and the watchman over our rights, the federal government, especially the executive branch, should not be hamstrung in its job to protect us from our enemies, which includes denying American liberties and rights to non-citizen prisoners who do not follow the written rules of war.
We are at war. That is a fact that many choose not to believe. The 9/11 Commission held that one of our biggest mistakes was that Al-Qeada was “at war with us” since the early 1990s, but we were not at war with them until after the horrific attacks of 2001. Before 2001, we fought them with lawyers and red tape. We jailed their agents and gave them the legal rights we would afford to the common drug dealer, except these weren't drug dealers. The jailed were agents of a foreign multi-national terrorist network bent on killing our citizens and creating unrest as to lay the foundation of a multi-continental empire based on 7th century religious scripture. These pre-9/11 prisoners had access to hundreds of tons of explosives, millions of dollars of funds, years of covert training and had the psychological conviction that the mass murder of thousands of people would guide them to heaven and please their perverted view of God. So, of course, they were going to be in stopped by the American rule of law and its alphabet soup of enforcement agencies competing with each other for funding and prestige.
Not only are we at war, we are in a new war against an enemy never thought up by those of the Geneva Convention or any other “rules of war” summit. Our enemies are citizens of other states, but their allegiance is to a network, not a nation. They come from our allies and our enemies, but they are not fighting for Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Turkmenistan or Iraq; they are fighting for a empire that doesn't exist and belong to a group that spans dozens of nations. The extent and the power of Al Qeada was as alien to the writers of Geneva as using planes as missiles was to our security apparatus on 9/11. The connections between nations and this group are so complex that it would be akin to trying to show a caveman how the Space Shuttle flies. Simply calling them criminals sullies the term.
Our Rights In The New War
Since the War on Terror (or more accurately, the War on Islamist Terrorism) began, the question of American rights and liberties have been on the forefront of many debates. People are rightfully worried about what the government can do to them in the name of stopping cover agents of our hidden enemy. It is never a bad thing for the citizenry to question its leadership about the freedoms the government is supposed to protect. What is wrong though is the ignorance and the deceptiveness of those with a specific agenda who (at times accidentally, at times purposefully) promote hysteria against what would be nominally tame national security proposals under the guise of “protecting freedom”.
Take the “domestic spying” hysteria, for example. The terrorist surveillance program instituted by President Bush was created to keep tabs on foreign agents who made calls in to the United States. This program is perfectly legal under the President's Article II powers and such power has been affirmed by countless Supreme Court decisions. The program is not a warrantless “domestic spying” program (which is illegal), as spread by political rivals and picked up by the press and subject to the domestic spying courts created after Nixon's abuse, but a program that spied upon foreigners who may be talking to Americans. The distinction between domestic spying and spying that happens to catch American citizens talking is minute in language, but huge in legality. The former means that the citizen itself is the target of warrantless spying, which is illegal, as domestic surveillance requires warrants. The latter means that an American is talking to a target under surveillance, which brings up the question of why an American citizen would be talking to a known terrorist.
As a radical, I had no care to the who or the what of this program and others. The very notion of a state security apparatus listening in on any American no matter the legality was a violation of American rights. Radicals do not take in to account that the United States is not a democracy, as many would say, but a constitutional republic based on the rule of law. While surveillance on Americans may seem disgraceful to those who keep revolutionary quote books under the pillows, to those who understand that in a republic the citizen, while primary in decision making, is secondary to the law itself. Simply being an American citizen does not exculpate the actions of the citizen and deny the lawful gathering of evidence against said citizen. It does mean though that an American, no matter his actions, has the right to a fair trial, as Jose Padilla and John Walker Lindh deserved and received.
American Rights and Foreign Agents
The radical belief that those in custody of the US military should have the right to challenge their detention during wartime solely based on the argument that Americans have that right is ludicrous. There are cases in wartime where enemy soldiers were tried during wartime and sentenced, but this is not an old war with two nations slugging it out mano-a-mano, as I stated above, but a new war against a new transnational enemy bent on transnational conquest through acts of extreme carnage using covert means. There is no modern analogy to our current wartime situation, as there has been nothing as legally complex and painstakingly strategically pinpointed as the War on Terror.
What do you do with enemies who do not wear uniforms, but fight for a state? According to the Geneva Conventions, they are partisans and are required to be treated as humanely as normal soldiers. What do you do with enemies who do not wear uniforms, but do not fight for a state? During the time of the GC, these were criminals and were free to be condemned by the laws of the state they were captured by. Our terrorist enemies fall under the latter, but if it were as easy as that I wouldn't be writing about it at length.
What do you with enemies who do not wear uniforms and do not fight for a state, but fight for a multi-national organization that has agents in dozens of nations and use horrific terrorist attacks upon civilians as its main tactic? According to common sense, you lock them up and interrogate them about their organization. According to common sense, you make sure these covert agents cannot slip back into the shadows to continue their war against your nation, now armed with the knowledge of your interrogation tactics. According to common sense, you don't do what many of the ideological left have advocated for: criminal trials and release based upon the rights Americans enjoy.
It is a simple fact: if you are not an American citizen you do not have access to American rights. This is the way most nations work. An American cannot simply walk in to a Turkish court and claim the same rights as a Turkish citizen. A Turkish citizen cannot walk in to a Austrian court and claim the rights of an Austrian citizen. The rights of a citizen are not yours simply because you are held in custody of a nation.
Unfortunately, the view that all under US custody have the same rights as Americans has infected not only our activist citizens and our leaders, but the very courts that are supposed to keep them in check. Several rulings over the length of the War on Terror has torn down the uniqueness of American legal rights to nothing more than a title. The most recent ruling, which gave prisoners at Baghram Air Base in Afghanistan the right to challenge their dentition, basically declared that American courts have authority over every inch of American controlled territory (not sovereign territory, but simply under our authority, even if only for a military operation) and pretty much turns our military actions against terrorists and their backers into police actions under the scrutiny of federal courts 10 000 miles away. How exactly can we fight those who defy even the most basic laws of civilization if overzealous and touchy judges, totally ignorant of the restraints put upon them by the Constitution, fret over judicial procedures that don't even belong on the battlefield? As far as I remember, there weren't federal judges landing in Normandy or Inchon taking notes on the legality of detention of enemy soldiers. Nor were there Department of Justice advocates harassing our soldiers when they plucked Saddam from his spider hole or at the scene of Zarqawi's well-deserved assassination. Why is it now that war, right down to the detention of enemy combatants taken on the battlefield, the worry of judges whose main task is to interpret and enforce federal law within sovereign America?
What It All Means: A Page From the Greeks
Our intellectual forefathers, the Greeks, believed in the superiority of their culture not because of racial superiority or religious belief, but because of their singular culture and the systems of citizen governance that it spawned. The Greeks, despite their near constant civil wars and varying politics, did lay the foundation for the very nation we enjoy today. If it were not for the Greek concepts of citizenship, militia, skepticism, and the amazingly free, yet particularly dangerous creation of the government by direct democracy (also known as the mob to strict republicans like myself), our current Western culture would not be spreading across the world today. There would be no separation of powers, no independent courts, no Congress (many would deem this a miracle), no volunteer military and so on. None of the liberty loving and liberty protecting concepts we enjoy today would be possible if it weren't for the emotional, vulgar, warmongering, politically incorrect Greeks.
Taking a page from the Greeks, I dare to say that our liberties, our rights, our concept of citizenship should be attuned to that of the Athenians, the Spartans and the other city-states of our ideological ancestors. Citizenship was not something given to anyone, especially in Sparta as I documented in The Spartan Code, but it was earned by those who stood with the polis and fought and participated in the government and in the culture itself. Of course, the harshness of the classical world created some very xenophobic and outright tyrannical laws, but the concept of earned citizenship is not alien in the least, at least not to those who hold to the view that America is the world's greatest nation based upon our way of life and not because we are capitalist-imperialist pigs.
Using the essence, not the literal interpretation, of the Greek concept of earned citizenship, it is reasonable and justifiable to deny the rights of Americans to those who are not Americans, and who are not only our enemies through war but also our enemies by their very core ideology. How can we honestly protect our nation when we are allowing those who hate the very idea of legal rights to use them to escape punishment? How do we justify the future deaths of our citizens and the citizens of our allies by repatriated Islamist jihadis who will only return to their crusade? Do we claim ignorance to their beliefs? Do we blame some perverted idea of fairness or justice espoused by fanatical antiwar philosophers? Do we try to justify the deaths of citizens by saying their sacrifice was necessary to keep the image of the law clean of stain from those with bleeding hearts?
A nation is only as strong as the citizenry that lives within it. When Greece was at its peak of material and psychological strength it not only removed the Persian Empire that had threatened it for centuries, but utterly changed its society and the societies of hundreds of other cultures as Alexander marched towards the ends of the earth. When the Romans came and claimed Greece as part of the Empire, the Greeks, still stuck on their own superiority, took their culture to the heart of Rome and changed it forever.
America is the descendant of Greece and its unique and tranformative way of life, a cultural tradition that now stretches across the planet. If we are to hold to our position as a great nation, our citizens need to be strong, proud and ruthless in the pursuit of protecting the liberties, rights and the sacred honor of being a legal American citizen. Otherwise, as all great nations do, we will fall because we no longer care for principles that brought us pride and prominence, but care only for the material pleasures our principles so graciously afforded us.
ICYMI: Jeffrey Ostler, The Lakotas and the Black Hills - At Amazon, Jeffrey Ostler, *The Lakotas and the Black Hills: The Struggle for Sacred Ground*.
56 minutes ago