"...We Found it In Ourselves..."

Monday, October 02, 2006

I listened to an interesting vignette this morning on NPR from a Jewish gentleman who served in the U.S. Army in World War II. It encapsulated for me what this whole terror/torture bill means, and why I feel so damn betrayed by some of the folks who voted for it.

To set the stage, this gentleman put his service .45 in his holster with the intent to go to the "Nuremburg Trial" and shoot Hermann Goering in the head. But of course, at the doors, the MPs made him check his piece. He recounted his anger at not being able to ultimately exact his revenge; revenge he had held on to until the right time, as if to strike vengeance for his whole people.

But he had a change of heart at the hearing, whereby he couldn't fathom another act of violence as the solution.

He went on in his commentary to describe the despicable acts of Hermann Goering as well as the evidence marched up bit by bit, from pictures to shrunken heads to lampshades made of skin.

And then he starts to get to the key points. Despite how awful these people were:

The U.S. War Department was determined that Goering and the other Nazis leaders would receive a fair trial. At Nuremberg, there would be no secret evidence or closed proceedings. The Allies believed that would betray their ideal of restoring democracy in Germany.
A fair trial. No secret evidence. These would be the things that destroyed the ideal of Democracy, which we were trying to establish in Germany.

Consider, as he went on:
Today, in the midst of a national debate on how to treat captured terror suspects, my mind flashes back to Room 600 at Furtherstrasse 22. We gave Goering and the other war criminals a chance not only to defend themselves but in some cases, preach hate and violence.
The worst of the worst received a fair trial. The evidence was overwhelming. But to me, the commentator's final comment summed it all up more eloquently than I could on my best day:
In a ruined Germany, where so many corpses still lay buried in the rubble, and life seemed so very fragile, we found it in ourselves to give the worst of men due process.
Moving. We found it in ourselves to give the worst of men due process. Read the whole commentary here. It's short, but worth the 2 minutes it will take out fo your day.

That is exactly what is at stake. That regardless of the unparalleled evil of the people we face as a democracy, we offer justice. So the Nazis got to get up and propaganidize one more time before they were found guilty. So what? It justified in all of our minds our correctness; our correctness of their evil and our pursuit and defeat of it, and our correctness in justice, due process and fairness.

Dispicable murderers, killers and rapers of children, serial killers, World War II war criminals: everyone gets a fair shot to defend themselves, even in the light of overwhelming evidence, because that's what type of society we are.

Or were.

Habeas Corpus keeps us from being falsely imprisoned and forces the State to hear us before a court. Or it did. Evidence is thrown in front of our feet if we are wrongdoers, and we have a chance to show we are truly guilty or that the State got the wrong person. Or we did. We had ideals that kept us from tortuing answers out of people because torture would make even the innocent confess. Or we did.

I am so disappointed that I could just melt down. What happened to the rightness of what we are and how we conduct ourselves? Why are we so afraid that we can't honor a concept as old as Western Society? Worse: why are people so cynical as to put an election and fear of a negative attack ad - an easily answerable ad - before our values in Democracy?

One day, when I am really old or passed on, I want my son to hear on the radio as he drives back from his morning workout that in this era of fear and terrorism, of hateful people who want to kill us and destroy our ideals, that we still found it in ourselves to give the worst of men due process. Then, we are a proud people.


Thrillhous 11:21 AM  

Amen. Getting rid of habeas corpus will be one of those moments historians make PhDs out of in the future. Let's hope we can fix it before too much damage is done.

Otto Man 8:25 AM  

Beautifully said, Smitty.

Mike 4:13 PM  

Great post. Wow.

Sorry I missed this when you wrote it. Nice.

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