Toad in the Hole

June 29, 2004

Principle or Privilege

I'm actually heartened -- for two-out-of-three-ain't-bad values of "heartened" -- by this morning's Supreme Court news. The Supremes, or most of them anyway, said that the Executive Branch and its minions can't declare certain people as a priori unpersons with regard to civil rights, and calling someone an "enemy combatant" doesn't create a new category separate from, say, prisoner of war. That a declared state of war is not an unlimited license to do what they want to whom they want. That it doesn't matter where they do it, either, or what the designated nationality of that place is.

The Supremes sure wimped out about the guy in the naval brig in S'Carolina, though, in deciding that his lawyer had addressed the wrong perpetrator.

I remain amazed at the seemingly widespread perception that certain practices -- habeas corpus, right to know what one's being accused of, right to face one's accusers, right to expect proof of guilt, e.g. -- are something to which we-as-Americans have the right, without equally being principles on which we-as-Americans (including and especially our representatives, enforcers... our minions) bind ourselves to live and act. And yes, it does seem widespread; look at the recent actions of the government and the kind of expressed support it has in, say, letters to editors.

Either those things are human rights -- you know, that self-evident, all-are-created equal stuff -- or they are privileges we've arrogated to ourselves by virtue of being born in the right place at the right time. Call it American exceptionalism if you will, but I'd like to think I am a part of a principled nation and a nation of principle, rather than of a sort of edited-for-TV, diluted, deracinated version of aristocracy.

Posted at June 29, 2004 03:57 PM