Friday, May 22, 2009

Rights? Who Gives a Damn. (Not Barack Obama.)

Rumor has it that (President) Barack Obama taught constitutional law — at the University of Chicago. Given the right-wing leaning of many at Chicago, he might be forgiven if he is hazy on the notion that human beings have rights. But he also, according to rumor, studied at Harvard, home then to the late John Rawls (though also to the likes of Charles Fried and Alan Dershowitz).

One way or another, it seems at least plausible that Obama may have, at least once, have come across this line:
Each person possesses an inviolability founded on justice that even the welfare of society as a whole cannot override.
This comes from John Rawls's A Theory of Justice. It expresses one of the core principles of Western moral thought, one that has spread around the world and motivated countless movements for human rights.

It a notion that Barack Obama is, despite his rhetoric, abandoning in his support for Bush-era crimes supposedly in the name of "national security".

The simple fact is this: There are some acts that cannot be justified, no matter what the 'good' that is promoted by the act. This is a notion that Americans embrace with near universality (the likes of Dick Cheney, Alberto Gonzalez, Condoleezza Rice being among the few exceptions). It is worth noting that no one is promoting the "ticking time-bomb" argument with regard to strictly domestic criminals.

The only reason that Obama might get away with his criminal denial of rights to Guantánamo detainees is that they are (1) Arab (or Afghan, or 'Middle Eastern') and (2) Muslim. There is a long history of due process being accorded to the most dangerous, most reprehensible individuals. Think of some American organized crime bosses, or Nazi war criminals, or serial killers. Surely profoundly dangerous. In the case of organized crime figures, surely individuals with wide networks that could threaten communities home to the prisons holding these criminals.

I find ite nearly impossible to believe that Barack Obama, whom people routinely describe as the 'smartest person' they've ever met, doesn't grasp this. That he is willing to sacrifice so fundamental a priniciple of American law for the sake of political expediency condemns him and his presidency to the same moral status as his loathesome predecessor.

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