Thursday, February 18, 2010

There is No Law for Anyone

I get very nervous when I hear someone say, "Those people don't have any rights" or "That person shouldn't get to have a lawyer."  For one thing, everybody has rights. But it goes further than that:

We're talking about terrorists here.  And even if these terrorists get tried in a civilian court, with all the rights and defense lawyers in the world, they'll still be convicted.  Does anyone think they might possibly be acquitted?  No.  That's not why they object to due process in these cases.  It's because they want to show a complete lack of respect for suspected terrorists.  They're not really human, so they don't have human rights. (Incidentally, Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, to name just one, has been in prison since 2003, and he's not ever getting out.) 

Some people argue that terrorists have stepped outside the rule of law - more so than any other criminals, apparently - and somehow that justifies not applying the law to them.  But in fact the only way to restore law and order is to carry out the law, not to ignore it.  This commenter on Ta-Nehisi Coates' blog put it well:
    Wrapping Khalid Sheikh Mohammed in our Bill of Rights is exactly what we want to do. Because then, when we convict him and execute judgement on him . . . people will understand that he deserved it, that he got what's coming to him. We can be both severe and just at the same time.
    Saying that terrorists ought to be denied normal rights is not just disrespectful to them.  It's disrespectful of the rule of law.  The law should apply to everyone, without exceptions.  Otherwise it's meaningless.

    And in fact, the flip side of "these people are so evil that the law doesn't apply to them" is "these people are so good that the law doesn't apply to them either."  The same people who want to deny terrorists their rights are the people saying that those American Christian missionaries who went to Haiti and attempted to take a bunch of children out of the country illegally "had good intentions" and "didn't do anything wrong."  (Of course, if a group of Muslim missionaries went to Haiti and tried to take children away from their parents, it would be seen as evidence of how evil Islam is.)

    No, in these people's minds the law really doesn't count for anything at all.  It really makes you wonder who they think the legal system does apply to, and how they think it works.

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