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Hullabaloo


Thursday, December 23, 2004

 
Who Us?

As I was navel gazing about how to win elections, I came across this article (via the Left Coaster) that reminded me of the pitfalls of losing sight of our commitment to civil liberties in the quest for votes and crossover appeal.

In the past week, new revelations of vast abuses of U.S. prisoners being held in Iraq and Guantanamo Bay have appeared in the news. Yet, many of the same people who condemn these atrocities are quite willing to see government officials engage in the same behavior toward Americans. While abuse, torture, and outright lying and criminal behavior by participants in the "justice system" are common, the public gives a collective yawn and juries continue to swallow the lies that prosecutors feed to them. Although the accessible examples of such behavior are legion and have been well-documented elsewhere, I will give some of my own.

Judge Andrew P. Napolitano in a recent article gave a couple of terrifying but all-too-typical stories of torture and abuse of people in this country. The first involved the accusation (almost surely false) of massive child molestation against two owners of a Florida daycare center in 1984. The chief accuser was then-Dade County State’s Attorney Janet Reno (yes, that Janet Reno) who was in the middle of a tough re-election campaign and was determined to get a guilty verdict.

Reno was able to have then-18-year-old Ileana Furster, Frank Furster’s wife, held without bond. Furthermore, the young woman was placed nude in a solitary confinement cell, being in full view of male and female guards. In 1998, Ileana described some of her treatment:

They would give me cold showers. Two people would hold me, run me under cold water, then throw me back in the cell naked with nothing, just a bare floor. And I used to be cold, real cold. I would have my periods and they would wash me and throw me back into the cell.


(Note: This action came at a time when prosecutors around the country were engaging in child molestation witch hunts against day care owners, the original accusations stemming from the encouragement in the 1974 Child Abuse Prevention Act, better known as the Mondale Act. It provided federal money to states that prosecuted alleged child abuse, and prosecutors were all-too-happy to jump into the mix. Many of the accusations were outlandishly false, but prosecutors and their media stooges managed to keep the enterprise going until the accusations collapsed under the scrutiny of a particularly egregious set of charges mounted in Wenatchee, Washington, a decade ago. However, even today, some people are serving life terms for "child molestation" crimes they almost certainly did not commit. Frank Furster is one of them.)

Finally, Reno began to visit Ms. Furster on a regular basis and browbeat her with accusations and promises of a life sentence unless she cooperated (that is, told the jury what Reno wanted her to say). Further visits from psychiatrists who allegedly specialized in "recovering memories" – which has turned out to be another form of government quackery – finally got their intended results. Ileana haltingly accused her husband in court (she has since recanted) and Frank Furster was found guilty.


This isn't hyperbole. Here's the transcript from the Frontline documentary about the child abuse witch hunts of the 1980's.

It wasn't right wingers who perpetuated these miscarriages of justice --- it was misguided liberals who thought they were protecting kids and ambitious liberal politicians who needed to appear to be tough on crime, acting out of a belief that the accused child molesters were so evil that it excused any kind of conduct. Neither party can claim a perfect record in this regard.

The only thing that can protect our country from losing its soul (if it isn't already lost) is a sincere and unbending commitment to civil liberties and the letter and spirit of the Bill of Rights. Once you start tweaking at the edges the whole house of cards falls in. As we look at how far we are willing to compromise, appease, reframe and redirect, it's awfully important that we keep that in mind. Otherwise, we're just as phony as the other side.


Update: In a related article, William Pfaff posits that the torture in Iraq and Gitmo was really more "Shock and Awe":

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that the Bush administration is not torturing prisoners because it is useful but because of its symbolism. It originally was intended to be a form of what later, in the attack on Iraq, came to be called "shock and awe." It was meant as intimidation. We will do these terrible things to demonstrate that nothing will stop us from conquering our enemies. We are indifferent to world opinion. We will stop at nothing.


I seem to recall quite a few liberal voices thinking this was quite a good idea. Take our good friend, the thoughtful and measured Tom Friedman:


No, the axis-of-evil idea isn't thought through - but that's what I like about it. It says to these countries and their terrorist pals: "We know what you're cooking in your bathtubs. We don't know exactly what we're going to do about it, but if you think we are going to just sit back and take another dose from you, you're wrong. Meet Don Rumsfeld - he's even crazier than you are."

There is a lot about the Bush team's foreign policy I don't like, but their willingness to restore our deterrence, and to be as crazy as some of our enemies, is one thing they have right. It is the only way we're going to get our turkey back.


Even intellectuals have lizard brains and know how to use them.





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