Missed the last few weeks getting back up to speed with the beginning of the semester. Rep. Sensenbrenner (R-WI 5th CD) helped wake me up with a little column he wrote about Gitmo.
Let me just say that this is precisely what Hannah Arendt was talking about. You'll see.
The Banality of Sensenbrenner.
Lawyers who become politicians sometimes focus so hard on what the law allows, they forget what justice demands. Maybe that’s because the law can be bent to fit circumstances as desire or expedience dictates. Justice is a different matter.
This may explain Rep. Sensenbrenner’s embarrassing two-step in the paper last week where he suggested that locking up prisoners in Guantanamo was “the solution, not the problem.”
Only someone more interested in legality than in justice could write something like that — assuming it was not embroidered by some hack from one of the pricey think tanks currently calling the shots for the RNC. Only someone with formidable legal skills could fold the American Constitution, like an origami master, into something that makes the torture of untried prisoners into a normal part of American life.
But there’s nothing normal about Gitmo, no matter how you crease the Constitution.
Had Guantanamo been tasked with locking up “prisoners of war” we wouldn’t even be having this conversation — but Guantanamo was not designed to incarcerate “prisoners of war.” It was designed to “detain” “enemy combatants.” There are sharp legal distinctions hiding inside these quotation marks. Prisoners of war must be treated according to the Geneva Convention, of which the United States of America is a signatory. The phrase “enemy combatants” was used instead, in order to camouflage their imprisonment under the drab olive tarp of legal expediency.
There’s a lot of nonsense in Rep. Sensenbrenner’s tidy paragraphs, but his most sinister comment of all is to note how good the conditions are for the prisoners. Prisoners at Guantanamo, he reminds us, get three culturally appropriate meals a day, are allowed to exercise and receive medical attention, and, best of all, they even have showers!
Apparently being imprisoned without trial or legal recourse is not such a big deal — so long as the food reminds you of your Mom.
So here’s the reality Mr. Sensenbrenner’s ninja lawyer tricks help him dodge: the fact that some of these men are dangerous terrorists — and some of them no doubt are — does not mitigate the fact that in United States of America everyone is innocent until proven guilty. Everyone. For now.
The camp at Guantanamo was built to legally circumvent this critical bit of constitutional justice. The fact that a detention camp has nice showers doesn’t make the incarceration of untried prisoners just or even — as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit recently found with regard to the Bush Administration’s treatment of suspected enemy combatants — legal. Not without some fancy dancing.
Am I the only one who gets sick simply from seeing the words “camp” and “showers” so close together?
This brings us to the crux of the matter.
Hannah Arendt, in the title of her 1963 work, “Eichmann in Jerusalem: A Report on the Banality of Evil,” coined the phrase that describes Mr. Sensenbrenner, and all the other Halliburton-built Camp Delta apologists, to a T. She noted with regard to the Holocaust (and those who supported it), as we may note with regard to the Guantanamo detention camps (and those who supported them), that the greatest evils in history are not caused by fanatics or sociopaths but by completely ordinary people who simply “accepted the premises of their state and therefore participated with the view that their actions were normal.” Those responsible for Guantanamo, and for defending it, believe all of this is normal. They accepted the Bush administration's premises — specifically, that terrorism justifies anything we happen to feel like doing whether it’s constitutional or not.
I imagine those gray and flinty lawyers, perfectly normal people, spending long days folding Madison’s illuminated prose into a shape that could justify a brave new world, and I know what they thought about on their way home from work each night. They thought about their kids, or about gardening or about pot roast for dinner: the million mundane facts of a mundane life. I imagine Rep. Sensenbrenner, heading home after a long hard day, dreaming of a brat with sauerkraut and maybe an ice-cold, Wisconsin-brewed beer.
Issues of justice? Enough bratwurst and the law starts to look more reasonable than what justice demands, in the same way that Guantanamo can look more reasonable than what justice demands.
Guantanamo was not, and is not now, a final solution to international terrorism. Guantanamo was, and remains, the most effective of all recruiting posters for international terrorism.
It is, alas, not surprising that people who confuse the law with justice should confuse the torture of uncharged prisoners with increased security for one’s country.
Our long national nightmare continues.