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Fighting for what's Right?

We've been talking about VP nominee Sarah Palin's convention speech here. But we haven't said much about the part of Palin's speech that bothered me most -- more than her dismissive reference to the responsibilities of a community organizer; more than her distortions regarding Obama's tax plan; more than her mischaracterization of her leadership on the "Bridge to Nowhere" proposal; more than her half-truths about having "stood up to the special interests, the lobbyists, big oil companies..."; more than her nonspecific (and perhaps unconvincing) promise of advocacy for the handicapped; more, even, than the fact that words like "haberdasher" and "nuclear" were spelled out phonetically in the prepared transcript, presumably so that she would not mispronounce them... The part that bothered me most was the predictable Democrats-are-soft-on-defense attack. Here's what Palin said about "the Democratic nominee for president" (per her prepared remarks):

Victory in Iraq is finally in sight... he wants to forfeit.

Terrorist states are seeking new-clear [sic] weapons without delay... he wants to meet them without preconditions.

Al Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America... he's worried that someone won't read them their rights?

It's that last line that really makes me wonder what, exactly, she's claiming, and what she's pledging. The intellectual dishonesty involved in conflating "actively plotting terrorists" and "anyone the U.S. might detain" is troubling, but not novel (see also sloganeering about "supporting the troops" and "loving America"). You don't energize the base -- any base -- with nuance. It's the values Palin (and, by extension, McCain) embraces in that statement, and the values she rejects, that truly alarm me. I haven't been able to identify what aspect of Obama's plans this line about "he's worried that someone won't read them their rights?" is meant to characterize -- can anyone point me toward what Obama has said on the subject? But Palin seems to be deriding the very notion of protecting human rights in national-defense situations. On its face, the statement suggests she doesn't think too highly of the Geneva Conventions. Is it also a pledge of continued support for torture (or "enhanced interrogation techniques")?

Perhaps I'm being too sensitive -- but you know, I'd almost forgotten about the unpleasant issue of torture until the RNC brought it back to my attention. And sneering at concern for the basic rights of detainees seems a very odd posture to strike at a convention that placed so much emphasis on John McCain's history as a P.O.W. On Tuesday, Fred Thompson described, in excruciating (if not always accurate) detail, the torture McCain suffered during his years of imprisonment in Hanoi. He, and others, made sure we knew the pain McCain endured; they also made it plain that said torture didn't work. In fact, it strengthened McCain's love of his country, and his resolve to fight for what he believed. That's what they told us. In the darkness before John McCain took the stage on Thursday night, we again heard Thompson's voice, declaring, "When you've lived in a box, your life is about keeping others from having to endure that box."

Which others? What, exactly, will a McCain/Palin administration be "about"? In his own speech on Thursday, McCain said, "I know how the military works, what it can do, what it can do better, and what it should not do." In the past he's been more specific: the military should not torture. But what about now? Would a President McCain worry about detainees' rights? To cite another lesson McCain said he learned during his military service: "In the end, it matters less that you can fight. What you fight for is the real test."

About the Author

Mollie Wilson O'Reilly is an editor at large and columnist at Commonweal.



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The "others" are fellow Americans, our allies, and even the innocent civilians among our enemies ... but it does not necessarily include the hard-core al Quaeda or jihadi types, just as history has demonstrated that our armed forces in WW2 were--from time to time--a bit less concerned with what happened to hardcore SS members we captured ... remember: Lincoln jailed the Maryland legislature to prevent that state's seccession and suspended habeas corpus ... Churchill fired on his recent allies--the French--rather than let their fleet fall into the hands of the Nazis ... and while McCain would certainly be more likely to protect detainees' rights than see another Abu Graibh/Gitmo situation, he also will maintain the necessary balance between protecting the rights of our enemies and protecting our nation (a balance that the more hysterical critics of Bush's policies might not maintain)What would McCain fight for? To protect and defend the United States because he is running for president of the USA, not of the world (whereas some of Obama's speeches and the things his supporters say don't always make it clear that they undersatnd thatr crucial distinction for their own candidate). Let's turn your argument around: suppose we followed the strictest of all legal restrictions, the most stringent of all efforts to prevent detainee abuses, civlilian casaulties, etc., etc., etc., and as a result we lose the war on terror so that the jihadists triumphed, not by taking over America, but by so dominating the middle east and the vital resources it controls that we gradually are focced to make accommodations to them--by abandoning support for Israel, by turning a blind eye as they impose sharia law throughout the terrirotioes they conquer to strip away the rights of women, to launch wholesale executions of homosexuals, to slowly erode the quasi-western democracries in Turkey, Lebanon, etc., etc., ... to gradually wear down--through immigration, increasing birthrates, and their demands for autonomous legal systems and other cultural concessions--the most basic human rights that western civilization fought to establish in Europe over the past thousands of years of history ... leaving America ultimately alone ...Would THAT be a better world? And while some will immediately dismiss that scenario as unlikely or impossible, history has taught us again and again that almost any unimaginable horror is actually quite imaginable if good men stand by and do nothing.

while McCain would certainly be more likely to protect detainees rights than see another Abu Graibh/Gitmo situation...What you take for granted here is precisely what I'm asking. Would McCain be more likely (than Bush, I presume) to protect detainees' rights? I'd have said yes, until Palin's speech mocked the very idea that detainees' rights matter.As for turning my "argument" around, I'm not sure what you imagine my argument to be. I'm asking how we're meant to interpret Palin's remarks in light of McCain's record and the RNC's rhetoric. But I think you're begging the question by supposing that following international law would mean allowing terrorists to triumph.

I understood that to be a reference to treating terrorism primarily as a matter for the Justice Department rather than the Defense Department, something Republicans have long criticized Democrats for. In particular, there was a Supreme Court decision a few months ago giving foreign prisoners habeus corpus rights (I won't even pretend to understand the question at issue) that Obama welcomed and McCain regretted.

The fact that she read a speech word for word that could have been written by Carl Rove belies her unique position from the rest. If she stays with that speech her favorability ratings will plunge. Right now she is still in the "honeymoon" period. Her bloom is already wearing off. It will get worse for her unless she backtracks.

I think Tom explained it well ... "reading them their rights" has long represented a feeling among many in this country that the legal system favors the accused--even the glaringly guilty (which I can say, since I'm not a lawyer in court)--over the rights of the actual victims. Palin was mocking those Democrats who seem so very worried about whether the supposed rights of even undeniably guilty terrorists (and, yes--once you determine that you actually have Khalid Sheik Mohammed in custody ... or Bin Laden himself .. there really is no question of their guilt or innocence) have been followed to exruciatingly precise levels ... and who brazenly state that George W is more of a threat to this country than said terrorists ... that is well mocked!As for "following international law," it is a highly debatable concept that certain tenets of international law even apply or should be considered within the US ... we certainly do not and should not submit ourselves to the current international war crimes system, nor to the numerous attempts that have been made to restrict freedom of the press ... but in general I am simply pointinmg out that throughout history the undeniable good guys (such as Lincoln and Churchill) have soemtimes resorted to actions that made strict civil libertarians unhappy--and thus what Bush did or McCain might do is hardly any worse and perhaps just as necessary.Remember also the opposite--the extremely 'Christian' but laughably absurd goal of Jimmy Carter during the failed hostage rescue attempt to have US soldiers simply tie up or otherwise incapacitate simple Iranian conscripts while shooting if neccesary the loyal Khomeini followers ... a goal that if it had actually been attempted would likely have gotten a lot of good men killed or injured unnecessarily and jeopardized the entire misison (which you may recall ended in tragedy anyway without ever being really attempted)

Oh please, Bill M!!!!!!Drop the nonsense about Palin just reading a speech! They all use speechwriters and you know it. That is the lamest argument anyone can raise against her ... and exactly what liberal wonderland do you live in to think that the content of her speech will hurt her? It's Obama's speeches that are wearing thin with the public as every poll shows. A tough-talking, pistol-packing, Bible-believing mother of 5 who also had time to take on the good old boy network of corruption within her own party will certainly play in Peoria for quite some time, much longer than someone who praises middle class workers and their values in Scranton but sneers at them at a fundraisewr in San Francisco when he doesn't realzie his words will be overheard.Face it--there are a LOT more Sarah Palin-like women and men and women who will admire her than who will relate to Obama's interesting but uncommon life story, liberal positions, etc.

Mr. Reid forgets to mention that a large component of this tough attitude that the president is supposed to have towards terrorists is vengeance. It is the vengeance component rather than the functionality of obtaining intelligence that makes the Right so willing to torture people.His argument, however, is an excellent example of why the Left and Right cant talk. Reid has linked a goal (suppression and defeat of terrorism) with a method. If one talks against the method, Reid sees them as also opposed to the goal. So instead of talking about what and what might not work, critics of the methods that the Right likes are seen to be weak or traitorous.I dont think that the Left or the Right looks are interested in looking at any of these things in a Christian sort of way. But it disturbs me in Reids discussion that he pretty consistently treats a Christian approach that would probably require some measure of mercy and prudence (and would have no room for vengeance) as weak and something that might be good for a few saintly people, but is not something that realists can do. This from the Party that claims to love Jesus.

Thanks, Tom, that sounds like a likely reference point. I'll try to find out more about that decision.

And thanks, Unagidon, for articulating some of my reasons for bringing this up here in the first place. I'm assuming most people who find their way to dotCommonweal are interested in the places where Christianity and policy meet... What are we as Christians supposed to be focused on here? It seems especially relevant to me because Palin's Christian values are a prominent part of her official campaign bio. What do Christian values require of the world leader when it comes to things like interrogation techniques and human rights? That's a big question, obviously. But this is a specific statement from a specific would-be world leader. Is it enough to say Palin was taking a swing at Democrats (specifically at Obama, but OK, let's not be technical)? Or should we assume her statement says something about her priorities? Should we be troubled by it? Should we dismiss it as mere baiting, like Giuliani's riff on the Dems' supposed reluctance to mention Islam?

The political right has always sneered at the idea of the rights of the accused, apparently because they feel that anyone who is apprehended by any authority must be guilty. Consequently, anybody in Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo should have no rights, because they are terrorists. We know, of course, that many "enemy combatants" were innocent people who were in the wrong place at the wrong time. But the right tried to justify every kind of mistreatment including physical torture and psychological torture to drive people insane by maintaining they were terrorists. Why should terrorists be treated with kid gloves.Trying to paint the Democrats as weak on national security, John McCain used to be fond of saying that the Democrats wanted to "wave the white flag of surrender" in Iraq. The only mention I heard at the convention of "surrender" was from Lindsay Graham:

Last summer, we came within two votes two votes of a congressionally mandated surrender. One Democrat, one Democrat broke with his party to support the surge. Ladies and gentlemen, thank God for Joe Lieberman.

John McCain and Lindsay Graham both know what "surrender" means, and no Democrat has ever proposed surrendering in Iraq. To say the Democrats wanted to "cut and run" is a distortion, but might be justified as the kind of exaggeration that's common in politics. To say Democrats wanted to "surrender" is just a lie, and they know it,

Unagidon,I have never once used the term vengeance nor have I said anything that even implies vengeance (with a singular exception of once expressing the desire to see Iranian tankers burning in the Gulf ... but even then, vengeance would only be the icing on the cake of practicality: i.e., it would teach the mad mullahs a good lesson and only also serve as sweet payback for our unilateral refusal to fight the Iranian-America War of 1979 ...) You're calling it "vengeance" does not make it so. Instead, I have always used this forum to play the gadfly of realism and practicality--not emotional vengeance or even emotional theology. As I have often said here, the example set by Jesus--in allowing himself to be horribly tortured and killed for a good cause--may be quite admirable in the sense of personal self-sacrifice, but is not an approach that any leader can fairly ask or expect the people he leads to follow. Nor is it one that--honestly stated--would enable him to become their leader in the first place. Thus, those who advocate such a religious approach to the real world of politics would need to lie to the electorate about what they intend to do (i.e., if anyone ever said it is immoral to use nuclear weapons even in retaliation for being attacked by nuclear weapons, that person would never be elected, and anyone who actually felt that way would actually immoral for not stating it outright)The idea of showing mercy to our enemies is a good one, and certainly one that the GOP would strongly endorse--but it is only practical once our enemies our defeated. Showing "mercy" to an enemy who is still quite a viable threat, still determined to strike at you with every chance and any possible weapon, is not mercifulness--it is madness.As for David N's complaint about "surrender" is an absurd distortion: you also "surrender" when you give up the fight, when you surrender the battlefield to your enemy even if that battlefield is not part of your own country. We certainly "surrendered" to the North Vietnamese when we refused to honor the commitments that Nixon had made--and Ford tried to honor--in order to end our original involvement in Vietnam, commitments to help S. Vietnam if the North actually invaded, which they did. But the Democratic Congress refused to honor those commitments and so let S Vietnam fall to the communists--it was a surrender of national honor that even the great appeaser, Neville Chamberlain, would not have been able to stomach, given that he finally went to war with Nazi Germany because he had made a commitment to defend Poland.

And before someone parses words too much, I do believe we can show mercy on an individual basis to an enemy who has been captured and no longer poses a threat--but it is a foolish distortion of mercy to pretend that an enemy who has vital infromation about an upcoming terrorist atack should not be made to divulge that information ... THAT is the scenario under which detainees' "rights" have been supposedly breached, not for vengeance or fun (and no matter what the extreme left says, Abu Graibh was an abberation, an abberation that our own society condemned and began to correct)

Of course its about vengeance mixed with a belief (and desire) to inflict fear on the enemy because you are afraid yourself and you want them to be too. The Right may not say this outright, because it would undercut their argument. If the fear and vengeance thing were purely about technique, then you wouldnt be talking about the Left opposing these things, you would talk about one technicians ideas versus anothers. They would not, because they could not, enter the level of national political discourse and you would not be wasting all this moral indignation about the question.Churchill certainly didnt sink the French ships nor did Lincoln eliminate habeas corpus because of a desire for revenge. Thats why the Right is wrong when it pulls those examples out to claim that their call for torture and violations of international law amount to the same thing.

Robert Reid:Whether some in the US like it or not, the US President (while not President of the world) nonetheless is in a position to have a vast and direct influence on that world whether THEY like it or not. Our military might and global economic and political influence are of direct and basic concern to that world. Dont forget that we have been relying on, and will most likely continue to, other countries to buy our debt in order to fund our world-wide military misadventures. As has been said more often than not, when the US sneezes, the rest of the world gets a cold. Witness the far-reaching effects of the disastrous and unregulated approach to ill-advised mortgage lending practices that have caused problems everywhere. The people the POTUS appoints to key agencies that are supposed to have the welfare of the general public and, by extension, the world at large, in mind cause problems if they fail to live up to their charters. (FEMA, anyone?) This country cannot and is not capable of being an isolated island that only needs to concern itself with what happens within the confines of the 50 states and US territories. Manifest Destiny is still the unspoken mantra of the various offices of US government and the effects thereof cause resentment and consternation outside of this country on a regular basis. Do a little traveling and engage citizens of other countries in a discussion about the US and you will find out quickly enough how much bearing POTUS has on THEM. I got an earful on a recent trip to England, which is probably closest to being our most secure ally. So, in effect, who we elect in November will fill a role of shadow President of the world.

I too read this as code for torture, for the Bush-Cheney "enhanced interrogation techniques". But even if me take the mildest possible explanation-- dealing with terrorism through military means instead of through the justice system-- the implications are horrendous. After all, did the British government in the 1970s or early 1980s declare a "war on Catholofascism" and start bombing west Belfast?

As has been noted by other comments, Palin's statement has to do with Boumediene v. Bush. So she was talking about the fear by some on the right that extending legal rights normally reserved to US citizens to detainees in a war zone would result in the release of most enemy combatants. I don't know all the details of the case, but I remember when I read the decision the thought occurred to me that if US soldiers feared that enemy combatants might gain their freedom through the US courts, it might encourage them to, you know, shoot them and avoid the legal process altogether.

Adeodatus: My understanding, based on my initial reading of the Boumediene opinion when it first came out (I will try to re-read it again today), was that it not only applies to enemy combatants, but also extends all rights of citzenship to POW's as well.

As for David Ns complaint about surrender is an absurd distortion: you also surrender when you give up the fight, when you surrender the battlefield to your enemy even if that battlefield is not part of your own country.Robert,This might not be bending the truth to the breaking point if the exact phrase John McCain used had not been "waving the white flag of surrender." Every school child knows that when you wave the white flag of surrender, you lay down your arms and turn yourself over to the enemy. It's even in the Geneva Conventions. John McCain knows what waving the white flag of surrender means, and it's exactly the image he wanted to put in people's minds. It's demagoguery, plain and simple.

I see that Unigidon has now decided to play Alice's Queen of Hearts in that he insists words--or political arguments--mean exactly what he says they mean, regardless of what anyone else (like the person actually using the words) might think ... thus, in Unagidon's view of things, I and others who share my views must be "afraid" and interested in "vengeance"--otherwise we would see things his way. What a self-satisfying way of viewing the world that must be! As always, though, I will stick with reality: Bush and Cgurchill and Lincoln did what they felt needed to be done, not out of fear, not out of vengeance, but because the best counsel available to them convinced them it was the proper path to follow. Lincoln and Churchill were certainly proven right; I have read enough history to believe that the judgment of history will be far more kind to Bush than his contemporaries were (assuming, of course, that western civilization ultimately wins this struggle, rather than succombing to despair and the demographics that might favor our enemy)And Jimmy Mac, here's a suggestion: you run your candidates on a platform that states outright that your candidate will fill the role of "shadow president" for the whole world and I'll run my candidates on being cocnerned with the USA's needs. Let's see who wins? (And yes, I am focusing only on winning--not on being supposedly "right," which I don;t think you are anyway ... if you don;t win, you don't govern and thus everything you say is simply hot air or electronic blips, as the case may be ...) ... and by the way, Jimmy, my passport has quite a few stamps in it

David,Indeed your "truth" is showing quite a few stress cracks since any student of rhetoric would know that McCain was being symbolic and not literal in accusing the Dems of waving the white flag of surrender. Or do you somehow think that McCain had literally seen Nancy Pelosi and company unfurl a real-life--as opposed to metaphorical--snow white banner of shame?

Robert said :assuming, of course, that western civilization ultimately wins this struggle, rather than succumbing to despair and the demographics that might favor our enemyThis is a fear statement, just like the other one where you are fantasizing about the victory of the terrorists. And you can say that it isnt really a fear statement, because you didnt say it was a fear statement, but it is nonetheless.Your argument, which is a typical argument of the Right (although the Left argues using the same structure in the United States), is to create a dire outcome, then say that in order to avoid the dire outcome we have to pursue some course of action. If someone says that the course of action is irrational or incoherent or immoral or incompetent, then you say that they must either want the dire outcome to happen or they are being naive about it the outcome. All sorts of things which are actually technical questions are converted by you into moral questions and these moral questions are then put on the table to see who would have the moral fiber to execute them as president. Its a game that has been especially refined by the GOP; to take a position that the government likes and make the execution into the litmus test for the problem itself. Want to promote democracy (and who doesnt)? Then we simply have to invade Iraq. Against the war in Iraq? Then clearly you dont want to promote democracy.While there are strictures in Christianity against torture (and there is a pragmatic element to these strictures; that is, if one believes in God), there are also non-religious pragmatic elements too. International law isnt some plot against the United States, nor were the laws developed without some significant thought based on the concrete experiences of two world wars. How these things come down to some candidates argument about character and will is very odd. Its one of the many reasons why we look so strange to the rest of the world.Regarding the rights of terrorists, they still have them just as criminals do. You talk about the rights of victims. Victims have rights too. But even catching criminals red handed does not mean that they forfeit their rights. The terrorists we have at Gitmo, which you seem to think are there being tortured because of their knowledge of immanent terrorist threats have been there for years now and some of them are apparently utterly innocent. You seem to want to waive their rights anyway in the interests of some sort of military necessity. But they do have rights, and not just at the whim of the president of the United States. And you are simply lying (or perhaps you are the one who is being naive) if you state that vengeance isnt part of the rationale that they be denied their rights. It is also part of the argument of victims rights when it is implied that the perpetrator gets more rights than the victim. The perpetrator and the victim have the same rights. The victim however, has been victimized. But it does not follow that the criminal should also be victimized in order to give him the same rights as the victim; unless we are talking about a principle of vengeance.

Indeed your truth is showing quite a few stress cracks since any student of rhetoric would know that McCain was being symbolic and not literal in accusing the Dems of waving the white flag of surrender. Or do you somehow think that McCain had literally seen Nancy Pelosi and company unfurl a real-lifeas opposed to metaphoricalsnow white banner of shame?Robert,You know as well as I do what McCain was trying to do. It is the same thing Bush was trying to do when he implied Obama was an appeaser. You attempt to associate your political opponent with the worst things you can get away with and plant images in peoples minds that are far from the truth. Once again, it's called demagoguery. A couple of weeks ago I stepped back and said to myself regarding this kind of political debate, "Why is it I have an answer for everything?" The reason is because it is very easy to get totally caught up in defending your chosen candidate no matter how tortured your logic has to become.

Unagidon: Indeed terrorists have rights - I believe the point Governor Palin was trying to make (or at least the way I intrepreted it) was that the rights of those alien unlawful belligerents differ from the rights of non-alien criminals. With Boumediene, these belligerents were granted full rights under the U.S. Constitution, rights exceeding those granted to POWs under under the Geneva Conventions, for example. I think for many people, myself included, who are against torture and would love to see Gitmo closed, for example, think that protecting alien unlawful belligerents from search and seizure on the battlefield or granting them 5th Amendment rights, goes too far.

RR: the much ballyhooed Average American loves self-delusion. Why else would we have to constantly convince ourselves that Iraq is the right place to be and that the deaths of US service personnel there were honorable deaths. This is not to demean the sacrifices of these women and men, but it is to expose the lies that we have to tell ourselves to feel good about what we should be feeling bad about. That was true when I was in the military during the Vietnam debacle, and remains true today. Of course many will and do vote for what they want to hear rather than what is the truth. The only problem is that self-delusion is just that ... delusion. If people really think that the decisions in November are important only in the context of our sovereign borders, then they are very sadly mistaken. If the past 8 years have taught us anything it is that this elephant wounds a lot of smaller animals every time it lumbers without thinking of where it is going. Passport stamps are not the same as paying attention to what the rest of the world thinks.

I believe the point Governor Palin was trying to make (or at least the way I intrepreted it) was that the rights of those alien unlawful belligerents differ from the rights of non-alien criminals. MAT,The above is how you interpreted this remark, ""Al-Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America; he's worried that someone won't read them their rights"? It is clearly meant to imply that Obama is less concerned with protecting America than he is with protecting the rights of terrorists. It was a "zinger." How many people screaming and cheering in the auditorium were thinking of the different rights of "unlawful combatants" and criminals who are citizens?

David Nickol: Of course it was a "zinger". As you say, "You dont energize the base any base with nuance. " That does not mean there was no informational content to it. You asked very explicitly in your post what the McCain-Palin ticket's views were on "detainees rights" and I tried to address that in my comment. Senator McCain's position on these matters has a lengthy documentary record (it is however true that I do not know what exactly Governor Palin's personal positions are, hence the qualifiers in my statement above). Senator McCain agreed with the SCOTUS in Hamdan v Rumsfeld and vigorously disagreed with the majority in Boumediene. For example, here is an excerpt of what he said after the final verdict in Hamdan's military trial in August 2008 (""This process of bringing terrorists to justice has been too long delayed, but I'm encouraged that it is finally moving forward," McCain said in a statement. "Unlike Sen. Obama who voted against the [Military Commissions Act] and favors giving al Qaeda terrorists direct access to U.S. civilian courts to contest their detention, I recognize that we cannot treat dangerous terrorists captured on the battlefield as we would common criminals."Senator McCain's position on torture and enhanced interrogation techniques is also very well documented. Inter alia, he believes waterboarding is a form of torture, that the U.S. military should be limited to the 19 techniques outlined in the U.S. Army Field Manual, and that the CIA should be able to use techniques outside of those in the Field Manual but not waterboarding.

Of course Bush and Cheney simply know who is and who isn't an Al Qaeda terrorist. And of course, the courts, finding that someone is in fact an Al Qaeda terrorist, would simply release them. But all of this is beside the point. The GOP is in the hands of its nationalists. This is why the focus is on "America First". The attacks on Obama have primarily been on his "Americaness". McCain is being cast as the man "who loves America". Therefore, his American heart (or rather, gut) will not be wrong. It is all about American exceptionalism, and since this is something that comes from the gut (if one is a true American), then the policy things that the Democrats like to think are important are not. American exceptionalism means that to believe that "terrorists" have rights or are even human is something sinister an un-American; something that some sort of internationalist infected by European principles might believe.If one is a true American nationalist, one can be an adulterer, a flip flopping opportunist, a rich boy, corrupt, and compulsive but it doesn't matter. All of these things can utterly fly in the face of the "values" that the nationalist party claims to hold, but in the end there is only one real value and that is The Nation.

To be fair, David N. didn't say that about energizing the base -- I did. But now that I've read more on the Boumediene case, I think Governor Palin's remark was far broader than it needed to be if she wanted to refer specifically to that case. There's a very big difference between "Should they be allowed to petition for a writ of habeas corpus?" and "Should they be notified of whatever rights our legal system grants them?" Why not say, "Al-Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America... he wants to give detainees in the War on Terror direct access to our federal courts?" That's not too nuanced, and it sounds much less fanatical. Palin (or her speechwriter) went a step beyond simply "Obama's priorities are unbalanced," and I'm very uncomfortable knowing that this "zinger" was worded in that way -- that it relied on listeners not distinguishing between active terrorists and anyone else we might detain, and most of all that it assumed listeners would scoff at the notion of "reading them their rights."

David Nickol: Of course it was a zinger. As you say, You dont energize the base any base with nuance. That does not mean there was no informational content to it. You asked very explicitly in your post what the McCain-Palin tickets views were on detainees rights and I tried to address that in my comment.MAT,You are mixing me up, as far as I can tell, with Mollie Wilson O'Reilly, whose post began this thread. I would disagree with your belief that you have found "informational content" in Sarah Palin's line about wanting to read terrorists their rights. As I said above, the intent of the remark was to imply that Obama was more concerned about the welfare of terrorists than about America. Your analysis of the McCain position on detainees' rights may or may not be correct, but it is not to be found in Palin's remark.

David: You are right, I did confuse you with Mollie - the danger of multitasking.

Thank you for this post Mollie. That remark from Palin's speech turned me irrevocably against the McCain ticket. A candidate can all kinds of flaws, but I cannot bear the thought of someone who does not believe in basic human rights becoming a leader of our country.Robert had the issue described well: it is about how we "maintain the necessary balance between protecting the rights of our enemies and protecting our nation." The nature of our country is that every person has certain inalienable rights. If that is not recognized, it is not America that is "protected", but some collection of people who care more about themselves than about our nation and the principles on which it is founded.Reading someone their rights, innocent until proven guilty, equal protection under the law -- these are the things that make us Americans. There are times when we might have to curtail these rights, but only with great anguish. A person's commitment to defending human rights should never be derided with a toss away applause line that so belittles America's principles.

Mollie: The only thing I would add is that the Boumediene case goes beyond the issue of writs. The decision was quite open ended regarding the rights that would be validated by these habeas writs. The SCOTUS left those rights, among other things, up to the Federal District courts. We just don't know what will happen. It is certainly very possible that a District judge would apply the standards set in Miranda v Arizona with respect to interrogating these defendants, for example. That is where the "read them their rights" reference comes in - it was an attempt, admittedly in a very partisan way, to illustrate the possible ramifications of the Boumediene decision. Senator McCain believes these so-called Miranda rights, for example, are inappropriate for alien unlawful belligerents. Other respected groups such as Human Rights Watch and the ACLU, for example, feel those rights should be applicable. Was Governor Palin's statement based on a hypothetical and meant to be a zinger? Yes. But it wasn't a lecture in constitutional law, after all, it was a political speech. Was your phrasing much more palatable? In my opinion, yes. I would just modify what you said as follows: Al-Qaeda terrorists still plot to inflict catastrophic harm on America he wants to give detainees in the War on Terror direct access to our federal courts and we are not able to legislate what rights the court may give them?

MAT said: "As I said above, the intent of the remark was to imply that Obama was more concerned about the welfare of terrorists than about America."This is true and this is the point. This formula, which is pure nonsense, is meant to cast Obama as less than "American". It's a nationalist formula.

MAT - Yes, I guess your version is better still. But it would interrupt the rhythm of the speech! Maybe the problem is that this question is too complicated to be reduced to a pithy jab. I would have preferred to see it addressed seriously and soberly, perhaps by McCain himself, or by someone else with established foreign policy experience -- "My friends, the question of balancing the rights of all people, even our potential enemies, with the security of America is a difficult one..." etc. Treat it like the important question it is. But I agree with Jim McK that "A persons commitment to defending human rights should never be derided with a toss away applause line that so belittles Americas principles." Especially since the line had the opposite effect on me -- it left me thinking not just, "Wait, not all our detainees are terrorists," but also "Well, yes, of course he wants to protect their basic rights, if at all possible. Don't you?"

It is almost proverbial that as soon as a conservative is in trouble the first phone call s/he makes is to the ACLU and when her child is pregnant is the first to plan the abortion. What would conservatives do without liberals? They would be in chains. The thing they are good at, as Robert Reid points out, is that they lie better. They owe all their rights to and privileges to liberals.

Unagidon: I didn't say that - David Nickol did.

Bill M,You are a sad, self-delusional person: we ALL owe every right we have to our armed forces which, since 1775 have been spilling their blood so that people like you can spout off on whatever crazy idea gets you going in the morning. If some of those soldiers were liberals--as they probably were--I thank them for that service. Your so-called proverbial hypocritical conservative is certainly NOT in the mold of Sarah palin, who not only gave birth to a Down Syndrome child but certainly has NOT sought an abortion fro her daughter, though that would likely have saved her from some political embarrassment.

Please, friends, let's keep it to issues, not personal attacks on one another.

Quite right, Jim -- disagreeing is fine, insulting is not. Generalizations about either party are also unhelpful.

MAT said: "Unagidon: I didnt say that - David Nickol did."Sorry. But in any case, since it is a quotation from her it is no reflection on the quoter.

Bill Mazzella: Good link. For a minute there I thought we would have to endure a whole day without a gratuitous attack on Justice Clarence Thomas's character. Thank goodness for Bob Herbert sparing us from that.

Obama responded to the line in question, as reported at the "The Trail" blog. Money quote:

"We don't always catch the right person," he said. "We may think it's Mohammed the terrorist, but it might be Mohammed the cab driver. You might think it's Barack the bomb-thrower, but it might be Barack the guy running for president."

Mollie: That's a good link. My problem personally with the Senator's view that non-citizen belligerents are entitled to full Constitutional rights as if they were American citizens committing crimes on American soil is that he is trying to have it both ways. When he says, "If you've got a terrorist, take him out", for example, as he said in those same remarks, you don't really know they're a terrorist until you try them in Federal court if they are entitled to Constitutional rights. You also can't use any evidence you found in their cave or wherever you found them - unless of course you went to court first and got a warrant. You also can't just "kill" them either - they are entitled to the aforementioned trial, appeals to their death sentence, etc.

For the further edification of some re: what is at stake in a broader sense in this election:

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