Minister's Study

Ministering, writing, and wrestling in a land flowing with sweet tea and deep-fried food

Thursday, July 26, 2007

When will it be me?

Let me go on the record here as saying that I fully support the war on terror. I also support our troops remaining in Iraq until the democratically-elected government (which has requested we remain) is able to sustain itself in the face of minority insurgents within its country and foreign terrorists oozing through its borders to help them. I'll try to get into the reasons I think it would be monumentally unintelligent to pull immediately out of Iraq some other time.

But there has been a side effect of this war on terror that greatly concerns me. A little tool that has been developed to help fight that war. I've mentioned it before, and I've said I'm not sure what we're doing there is moral. (Any worse than what our enemies have done and are willing to do? Absolutely not! But we don't want to sink to their level, or anywhere close to it -- that's why they're the bad guys and we're the good guys. At least, I hope we are.)

But I have another reason to oppose the long-term incarcerations at Guantanamo Bay. Has anyone caught what is happening there? The government or military can slap a label on a person, then without presenting proof that the person is guilty of any crime, or even guilty of being associated with that label, can lock them up and keep them for as long as they want.

There are two enormous dangers of this, dangers that have manifested themselves throughout history. The first is that the label, or its definition, can change at any time, once the precedent has been set that the government can do whatever it wants with people after it slaps a label on them. Right now, the label is "terrorist." But what happens if the label gets changed to "religious extremist"? Or "Fundamentalist"? Conversely, what happens if the label gets changed to "Anti-Christian extremist"? Or "Anti-American" (the most dangerous of all, I suspect)? And what exactly do any of those things mean? Apparently, whatever the government wants them to mean. Guantanamo Bay was set up to house "terrorists." You would think that means people who have been actively involved in an act of terror, or conspired to commit one. But by the government's own admission, hardly any of the people there (if any) have actually taken any terrorist action of any sort, much less one against our country. Not only that, but they don't necessarily have evidence that the people even belong to a terrorist organization. Some of them, the government knows full-well have no connection to any real terrorist organization. They simply had some reason to slap that label on the person, and they get to pick the label and pick what it means. So if the government doesn't like you, for any reason, they can slap the label "terrorist" on you and lock you away without ever showing evidence for why they did it, without ever allowing you to face your accusers, and without ever letting you speak for yourself. And they can keep you forever.

Once you give the government a power, that power will be exercised by whoever is in office. Powers you give today, trusting they will be used responsibly by people you helped put in office, will be used tomorrow by people you loathe and who may well hate you and what you stand for. Has any protection been put in place that indefinite incarceration without presentation of evidence or opportunity for trial will only be used on those who are labeled "terrorists"? And is there some way to force that label to always mean the same thing? Or do all of us who don't at any given time agree with the majority of voters, or whoever is in office, on some major issue have to live afraid that the powers granted to our government will be used against us?

The second immense danger is that people will use it to hurt personal enemies. This happens eventually in every police state I know of (and no, I don't think we live in one -- those who claim we are should try visiting one sometime, and maybe making publicly there the claims they make here. I'm terribly sad to think they might not survive to make it back here and report on the similarities.) A person will have an enemy or rival and know that if a particular label gets applied to that person, he will be removed, perhaps permanently. And since there's no trial, no standard of proof, not even a presentation of evidence, all a person must do is report his rival with enough information to cast suspicion on him. How much do you trust your neighbors? You know how rumors get around about people. How about your co-workers? Your business rivals? Do you really think they've all got the scruples not to make a quiet phone call to cast a little suspicion on you?

Honestly, I think we're a long way from that. I'm sure that, especially here in the United States, an accusation of terrorism would be researched pretty carefully to see if it's substantiated. A false accuser would probably find himself very unpopular, and possibly in a lot of trouble. But that long way can shrink fast. And if we let our government have the right to lock people up indefinitely on the mere suspicion of their involvement with someone who might have done something -- we're taking a big step in that direction.

I am no prophet in the Biblical sense. But I've read some history. And I know what happens when a government has the power to take action against any group of dissidents, without concern for legal restraints. That power eventually gets used against those who won't conform to the state. And historically, that power has been used against conservative Christians. Since the days of Rome, continuing through the so-called dark ages in Catholic-dominated Europe, in Hitler's Germany, and into modern days with Soviet Russia and communist China, not to mention in every seriously Islamic state in history, those who believe like I do about the Bible, Jesus Christ, and salvation have had the power of the state exercised against us in terrible ways.

I am afraid to give the government a power which will almost certainly be used against me or others like me. And if you don't see eye-to-eye with at least 51% of the American voters on every major issue and have the courage not to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with those you can't see eye-to-eye with, you'd better be a little nervous too about letting the government lock up indefinitely whoever it wants without trial and without evidence. How long before it's me? How long before it's you?


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