Suspected terrorists

People are making a big deal right now about how it’s obviously stupid that “suspected” terrorists can buy guns, but can’t get on planes. But nobody seems to be pointing out how it’s terribly unamerican that there’s even a category of “suspected” terrorists.

Until 15 years ago, you were presumed innocent until you were convicted of a crime. Yes, there was a category of “indicted” that was kind of in-between—but there was a clear legal process for how you got there, and a clear path to resolving the in-between state.

I really object to the idea that someone who has been convicted of no crime can be put into a category that denies them any of their constitutional rights. The gun nuts are putting a special premium on the right to be armed, but what about the right to travel?

The government, in the few court cases that have had at least some proceedings so far, has put a lot of weight on the idea that you don’t have to be able to fly to exercise your right to travel. You can still walk, after all. If you’re overseas you can buy a yacht and sail to the U.S, and the lawyers for the government seem to think that resolves the right-to-travel issue.

The fact that the process for getting into this state of “not convicted of a crime but still lack the rights of a normal person” is opaque and uncontestable is bad, but really doesn’t bother me as much as the state existing at all.

I am slowly coming around on the gun-control issue, but I wouldn’t mind preserving the status quo just for a bit, as a way to focus the mind on the broader issue: We used to have constitutional rights, and nowadays the most basic of them—being deprived of liberty without due process—has been constantly violated for fourteen years.

Fear itself

I’d seen it right along, and plenty of other people have commented on it before me, but I don’t think it really sunk in until just this past week, with all the hand-wringing over Syrian refugees:

Republicans are a bunch of cowards.

I’ve never seen so much fear as has been on display the past week from the Republicans (and, I must admit, way too many Democrats as well). And over what? A bunch of people—largely educated and middle class—who have been forced to flee their homes.

Seriously, the Republicans are straight up afraid of widows and orphans. What’s up with that?

I mean, I totally understand why the Syrians are afraid. They have soldiers and militias fighting house-to-house in their neighborhoods, blasting them with artillery, even using chemical weapons. Not to mention, they have U.S., French, and Russian air forces dropping bombs on those same militias, in the same neighborhoods.

But the Republicans? What are they afraid of? They’re afraid that some “terrorist” will “slip in” amongst the masses of refugees and commit “acts of terror” in the United States.

Well, these hypothetical refugee-terrorists (of which we’ve seen exactly zero so far) will have to get at the back of a pretty long line, behind the non-hypothetical white-supremacist, right-wing, and anti-government militias (not to mention depressed loner high-school boys) who have been committing mass murders in the U.S. in numbers well in excess of those committed by foreign terrorists.

Perhaps worst of all, most of the Republican rhetoric isn’t even aimed at affecting government policy; it’s aimed at preemptively setting up other people to take the blame. “We said you had to give ‘100% assurance’ that they wouldn’t be terrorists before you could let them in, so if even one of them commits a terrorist act it’s all on you!” (They know perfectly well that ‘100% assurance’ is impossible, which is why they demand it. It makes me want to point out that in the U.S. we convict people of capital crimes and execute them, and all we require is assurance “beyond a reasonable doubt.” I expect pointing that out makes me a rose-colored glasses wearing liberal who’s endangering our country.)

Fortunately, some people are man enough not to quake in their boots at the idea of some ordinary families fleeing terror and ending up here, and man enough not to be terrorized at the idea that they might have to take the blame if an evildoer does slip in. I’m thinking of President Obama here, rather too few Democrats in Congress, most of my liberal friends, and (oddly, because I don’t think of myself as especially brave) me.