Thursday, May 21, 2009

America's Detoxification Requires Patience and Perseverance

I want to begin by saying I'm an enormous fan of Glenn Greenwald and that I wish everyone in Washington would read his blog. I cannot imagine someone doing a better job of speaking truth to power and calling out the sycophantic public relations people that pose as journalists in our mainstream media.

That said, I disagree with him that Obama is transforming "right-wing dogma into... bipartisan consensus" by permitting military commissions, failing to release photos and keeping detainees deemed dangerous locked up for the time being.

There are a couple issues here:

(1) If there is a sound basis for deeming a detainee dangerous, but because the Bush admin tortured him or otherwise didn't gather enough evidence of an actual crime, e.g., let's assume he was picked up on the battlefield in Afghanistan, surrendered, but during his stay in Guantanamo has vowed jihad on the US thousands of times, then what other choice does Obama have? If we try him, there's no way to convict, and if we release him, the man will immediately resume his aggression toward the US. I suppose Greenwald would have us try the man, and upon acquittal, deport him back to Afghanistan or elsewhere where he'd join up with the Taliban and fight our soldiers or plot against the US. I suppose this happens all the time in our civilian law enforcement when they have to release a suspect they're pretty sure is guilty because they don't have enough evidence to hold him. Except what would happen that suspect kept saying he would kill the sons and daughters of the police officers if they let him go? Would they still release him in that case? And should they?

(2) It's dangerous to detoxify too quickly or radically - the process of cleaning up the Bush admin mess (and our country's resultant disease) must be gradual.

Here's an analogy: if you have mercury poisoning (as I do), you have to chelate (take chemicals that bind to mercury and carry it out of the body). But if you take too big a dose, you will get much sicker because your body can't handle the mobilization of so much mercury at once. So you start off with very small doses, and carry bits of it out gradually - and your body, while still sick, can tolerate that amount of mobilization. As some of the mercury is removed, you can start to up your dose as you're less sick and more able to tolerate larger mobilizations without debilitating side effects. Finally, you're able to tolerate high doses of the chelator and clean out the rest.

So it's not just a cost-benefit analysis - is it worth unjustly imprisoning people to avoid unpleasant political consequences (Greenwald's framing of how Obama sees it), but you can actually jeopardize the whole chelation program by overdoing it too quickly. We were a very poisoned country, and our media and many elected pols (and a large number of misinformed citizens) can't handle a massive mobilization just yet. But as the body politic grows healthier, the tolerance will go up, eventually culminating in justice. But you have to be very careful not to push too fast, and Obama understands this because he's been "chelating" in communities for years and knows how to calibrate the pace of change and overcome resistance.

Greenwald's not so much interested in that because it's not his job to be. It's his job to keep the pressure on the administration to bring the country in line with the constitution. And to that extent he's correct to push for our ultimate and complete detoxification. Those who would argue that we should just move forward without accountability are like ill-informed doctors who think any suffering from mercury mobilization is too much for the fragile patient, i.e, that the patient is far too sick to chelate and should just treat his symptoms going forward. However, this will lead to all kinds of chronic degenerative diseases, so it is imperative to suffer a tolerable amount of discomfort and chelate at low doses immediately.

So the sick body-politic must tread a middle ground between too rapidly exposing itself to all of its existing toxins at once and not moving forward with Greenwald's ultimate goal - to realign the nation with the rule of law and the constitution.

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