Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Giving the Purple Crayon to the Government

I was going through my blogroll just now, and discovered this post over at Anonymous Liberal's place:

The other day, the New York Times published highly disturbing video footage of the government transporting Jose Padilla from his solitary confinement to a dentist appointment. He was shackled, subjected to visual and auditory sensory deprivation, and escorted by three guards in full riot gear. Keep in mind, this is a man who has been in custody for over three years without incident and, for most of that time, without charges.

Reacting to this footage, a commenter over at Professor Ann Althouse's blog made an obvious point:

There is no reason at all to make the accused wear a blindfold on the way to the dentist. . . . this is a case of overkill that says far more about those who ordered it, than it says about the accused.

To which the good professor responded:

Perhaps there is a fear that he will communicate in code by blinking.

Her commenter persisted:

With who? Mr. Padilla has been held in solitary confinement for years, and it's hard to imagine who would know he was going to the dentist and who and how they could continue to communicate with him. This seems to go to extremes. Frankly, I believe the blacked-out goggles and the attached sound suppressing device (so that he also couldn't hear anything) are a sadistic way of continuing his sensory deprivation.

But the esteemed professor was undeterred:

Since he was being filmed, anyone might get to see him. I think there's good reason to think that members of conspiracies have a code for signaling to each other after they are captives.

Clearly absurd, to imagine that terrorists would be monitoring tv screens night and day for three years, waiting for that moment when Jose Padilla would leave his cell for a dentist appointment and blink instructions for the next terrorist attack. But the larger question, which A.L. asks -- and it's really the point of his post -- is why any American would float such absurdities to explain or defend such gross violations of a U.S. citizen's constitutional and human rights:

... It's unthinkable to me that a U.S. citizen could be picked up off the street in Chicago and held incommunicado for years by his own government. It's unthinkable to me that the U.S. government would subject one of its own citizens to years of mind-ravaging solitary confinement and sensory deprivation (and, allegedly, torture and drugging), all without even charging the person with a crime. Yet that's exactly what happened to Mr. Padilla.

Where is the outrage? What's the matter with people like Althouse? What's the matter with our media? Why is this not THE issue that dominates our political discourse? Do any of our constitutional rights have any meaning when the government claims the power to arrest and detain American citizens indefinitely and without any process whatsoever? ...

I don't know the answer to that, either. But it does seem to be true that many -- maybe even most -- people are at bottom fearful of the open-endedness of freedom and democracy. Freedom and democracy are somewhat like Crockett Johnson's Harold, finding his way in the dark by "keeping his wits and his purple crayon." Quite a few would rather have someone else draw the pathway for them. Democracy entails thinking for yourself and holding authority figures accountable for what they do. Many people would rather believe that Father Knows Best -- especially when Father can point to an outside threat that his children need to be protected from. Maybe it's the existential terror of being alone, without some all-knowing entity to watch over you and keep you safe. Lots of people would give up a lot of liberty for that kind of "security."

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