Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Sobering and disturbing

I found this in a newspaper that we get at work, and I thought it was significant enough to post up for comment:

(Navy Times, 2/6/06 ) "[New defense measures] are intended to sharpen the military's focus on the war against terror, which the Pentagon has relabeled 'The Long War.'"

This military action isn't going to end any time soon, and they are finally admitting it. That admission ought to have a serious impact on how civil rights issues are dealt with. Infringements aren't just going to be the temporary muting of a trumpet; if war justifies infringing rights, what's to stop them from being infringed forever in a war that goes on forever?


The Bard said...

Sorry Monica, but I'm going to be the Devil's Advocate. What is so newly distubing? Everyone paying attention has known for a long time that the "war" on terror is not going to end any time soon. The administration has not pretended otherwise.

The more I think, the more i think that the most reasonable way to look at the civil rights situation is to consider Britain & Israel. Both nations have lived under a prolonged threat of terrorism, although Israel much more than Britain. I think we can say that both have maintained relatively open societies despite the threat.

For the moment, I am very skeptical of any "permanent loss of rights" claim where the government isn't doing much more that Britain or Israel do. However, I am equally suspicious of government claims that it needs some power that the Brits and Israelis don't need.

Oh, and for a balance treatement of the whole debate, see a recent article published in the Duke Law & Technology Review by an author whom you know well. :-)

Becca said...

I don't know... This perpetual state of war (and the accompanying powers) thing sounds hauntingly like stuff I heard in History of Rome. I agree, David, that it is possible to recognize and deal with a perpetual threat and still maintain respect for civil rights, but that requires an acknowlegement that the "emergency powers" justification must be more closely scrutinized.

Monica said...

Just because you and I knew that the war was going to go on forever doesn't make the Pentagon's name-shifting any less disturbing. And the administration has pretended that the civil rights restrictions were going to be temporary. That's why the Patriot Act had sunsets. Remember the muted trumpets? There was supposed to be a point where they once again rang out clearly.

Monica said...

I have to add also that names matter. It's not all just rhetoric. If the Pentagon is calling it "the Long War," that sounds to me like a rather convenient stepping stone towards a radically different approach to how we use our troops and what our foreign policy will be in the future. It's a subtle shifting in the message that the government is sending to the public. Check out http://www.guardian.co.uk/usa/story/0,,1710062,00.html for a Guardian article discussing this very topic.

Monica said...

Here's another article talking about the Quadrennial Defense Review. http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2006/02/02/AR2006020202296.html

The Bard said...

On your rhetoric point, I don't think a few words in a defense review that few members of the general public read has near the impact of what politicans say on a daily basis. If you want to make this arguement, that would be the way to go.

I read the Washington Post article and I am still not convinced. I see nothing new about calling the war on terror a long struggle, either as to the war on terror, or as to American history (the article itself refers to the Cold War).

Besides, to return to my first post, this begs the question of what rights have been infringed. While the "perpetual state of war" reasoning is indeed scary (it reminds me more of the rise of the Evil Empire in Star Wars than something in Roman history), it also addresses a reality. Facts, as John Adams said, are stubborn things.

I agree with you that infringements, to the extent they exist, do deserve more careful scrutiy. But what deserves more careful scrutiny is the existence of a threat itself. Remember the "necessary and defensible" test from somewhere? I'm less concerned about the extension of, say some provisions of the Patriot Act, as I am the apparent uselessness of those provisions to the actual war on terror. Again, see an excellent article by an author you know well.