Thursday, June 23, 2005

Durbin and the State of the Debate

Let see, one side calls the others traitors, terrorist symps or enablers, some going so far as to call for their internment, others previously going further, suggesting selective executions to terrorize the opposition.

The second party responds by accusing the first of being an enemy of freedom, seeking to suppress just criticism of its corrupt practices. The second party mutters impotently about impeachable offenses and compares the Government's treatment of some prisoners to that meted out by the Hitlerites and Stalinists.

The first party is outraged by the comparison and demands an apology. The second party capitulates. Emboldened, the first party amps up its rhetoric against the second.

There are a couple of lessons in this but the one that strikes me most forcifully is the light it sheds on the debate about the treatment of prisoners in Gitmo and other places. Both known and unknown.

In that debate, a number of voices have been heard saying that chaining people up in their own piss and shit for hours on end is an acceptable practice when dealing with terrorist or their allies. This is true even if a few innocents, regretably, get swept up with the guilty. Anyone who publicly criticises this by describing it as torture, or by comparing it to the actions of brutal and despotic regimes of the past, is guilty of endangering U.S. Troops and aiding the enemy.

The compelling question becomes: what constitutes a terrorist or the ally of a terrorist?

Some of these voices have made it quite plain as to what they think being on the "otherside" means. Their definition is not limited to Afghans, Iraqis, or by the borders of the United States. They believe their rhetoric of dissent as treason. They believe that there are traitors among us. Enemies among us. We know what treatment they reserve for enemies.

I read where someone said that Democrats fear Republicans more than they fear terrorists. I can't speak for either Democrats or Republicans, but I have been assaulted by people who share the sort of thinking described above. The only terrorist attacks that ever came close to threatening me physically were carried out by Eric Rudolph. If I were a Democrat, I would take cries of treason and aiding the enemy very seriously, considering their source. I wouldn't worry about offending such people's sensibilities.


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At 1:24 PM, Blogger paulfrommpls said...

This is a decent piece.

But I think you don't quite get what someone like me finds so disturbing about the "rhetoric of dissent" Durbin used.

You can criticize these practices profoundly without employing language that will inevitably serve to thrill those who hate this country the most. It's at least worth thinking about: do I really want to make these comparisons, even indirectly, especially since - no matter what - what we've done is not as bad as Nazi Germany? Really, not in the same league; semi-pro or town ball vs. All-Star Game differences?

To me, Durbin came across as utterly heedless of that kind of concern. And heedless as well of the genuine dilemma any administration would face in confronting this new existential threat; and heedless of the fact that we don't really know the facts on all of it yet.

He was all too eager to scale the heights of accusation.

It's the heedlessness that made me wonder where his head's really at, or his heart, or the combination.


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