With all of the events in Boston, from the bombing at the Marathon to the aftermath and eventual slaying and capture of the official suspects, one thing struck me as very compelling. The amount of blood lust on social media sites – specifically Facebook – once the suspects were publicly identified was staggering.
Calls for hanging, torturing, and killing were abundant. I was personally attacked for daring to suggest that perhaps the captured 19-year-old suspect deserved some due process, a lawyer, and a chance to defend himself against the accusations. Posts like this were not uncommon:
Other comments included “Waterboarding is too good for them” and others along a similar vein. Cries that he was going to “lawyer up” (implying he would be set free) were also rampant. What struck me most, however, was not the blood lust itself, which is at least somewhat understandable, but the quickness with which people were willing to dump the most basic of rights – rights that not only this nation, but the entire Western culture were based upon.
People were willing to toss out habeas corpus, due process, and the very fundamentals of freedom because someone, somewhere, said that this kid was a “terrorist” and therefore he must deserve to be treated as less than human. Often, these cries came from the same people who are quick to trot out and wave around their precious U.S. Constitution whenever they feel some “fundamental right” is being “trampled upon.” From free speech activists to gun rights proponents, from “left” and “right,” it was often the same: this kid doesn’t deserve to be treated fairly and should be thrown to the wolves.
There may be several things which we can blame this kind of disconnected thought process on. Public education, our apparent utter reliance on television news for information, our hypocritical and often blatantly self-serving political process, etc.
For many, the Bill of Rights begins at “freedom of speech, religion and the press” and ends there, with the other nine being “relics” that are ill-suited in a “modern” and “advanced” society such as ours; where “We Shall Overcome” and “Tax the rich” are somehow intertwined. For others, the Bill of Rights begins at “freedom of speech, the press, and we’re a Christian nation” and ends with “plus we can own guns, damn you” and goes no further. The other eight mean little – after all, he wouldn’t be accused if he weren’t guilty. Right? Only an idiot Marxist would believe otherwise. ‘Meerca! Oorah!
As Andrew O’Hehir at Salon states, everyone from wannabe Internet sleuths to political pundits to elected officials to the supposed “old guard” press botched and stumbled and made fools of themselves repeatedly in attempts to “get to the bottom of things” or “scoop the story.”
The reality is, with all of the cops on the ground, all of the civil liberties violations the people of Boston’s surrounds were subjected to in the massive manhunt undertaken on Friday.. it came down to one citizen going out on his back porch for a smoke and noticing something odd about his boat’s tarpaulin cover to find the suspect. To further add insult to injury for our nation’s huge “public safety” apparatus and all of its high-cost trappings (though few have yet noticed) all of the security, bomb-sniffing dogs, undercover units, National Guard standby, proliferate surveillance gear, etc. failed to catch what the official narrative says were two young men wearing backpacks who walked into the most public and secure areas of the entire marathon, set down their bags in strategic locations, and walked away without anyone noticing. All of that security theater amounted to nothing and was defeated, says the official story, by a Golden Gloves boxer and a freshman college student wielding nothing more than baseball caps, backpacks, and pressure cookers with homemade bombs in them. No sophisticated Ethan Hunt gear, no high-tech Batman toolbelts, nothing. Just two guys wearing backpacks carrying heavy kitchenware and they defeated every high-tech piece of equipment, every specially-trained canine, every trained and well-fed security person.. everything.
Then it gets worse for the uniform and badge worshipers. After a prolonged firefight with police in just about every available law enforcement capacity, one of these kids was killed – either by gunfire, if you believe the morgue photo, or by his brother running him over in an SUV while escaping, if you believe the police chief – and the other heavily wounded, but managing to escape. Despite his escape in front of dozens, if not hundreds of police officers, that 19-year-old college student, again by the official narrative, managed to turn into, as one of my Facebook friends put it “!@#$=! Jason Bourne” and elude authorities for almost 24-hours. Again, despite extremely heavy wounds including a bullet to the neck from which he was bleeding profusely.
When he is finally captured, footage from the event shows him lying in apparent semi- or unconsciousness at the bottom of the boat, clearly not moving. After nearly destroying the boat with some kind of arm mounted to an armored personnel carrier and tossing in several (up to half a dozen) flash-bang grenades, law enforcement pulled the nearly lifeless boy out of the boat. At which point they realized he was in sorry shape and, given the history of how law enforcers tend to treat suspects, since the cameras were rolling, decided that they couldn’t beat him some more or just finish him off without someone asking questions.
Now the cries for “justice” are being heard. Justice, of course, being the new word for “screw someone so we feel better” rather than “give someone a fair trial to find out if they really did do it, then figure an appropriate punishment.” In 300 years, our people have evolved from witch burning upon mere accusation to building one of the most-respected legal justice frameworks in the world to wanting to burn someone because they’re accused.
Justice Anthony M. Kennedy in his majority opinion in the Boumediene v. Bush case in 2008 said:
“Security subsists, too, in fidelity to freedom’s first principles. Chief among these are freedom from arbitrary and unlawful restraint and the personal liberty that is secured by adherence to the separation of powers. It is from these principles that the judicial authority to consider petitions for habeas corpus relief derives.”
The crux of the matter is, folks, if we abandon due process – as we have done for tens of thousands of suspected terrorists around the globe, including those who’ve spent a decade or more in Guantanamo Bay – we abandon not just our American values, but we abandon our entire culture as a Western nation built on principles of freedom. The Magna Carta, the bedrock document upon which most of the legal frameworks of Europe and ourselves was built, guarantees a right to habeas corpus. From that right stems a right to due process if accused of a crime.
If we abandon those principles to satiate our blood lust, no matter how justified we may feel in doing so, we abandon ourselves and become no better than the tyrants and evil men of past and present we so abhor. Whatever your personal boogeyman is, be it Islam, Israel, Republicans, Democrats, or anything else.. if you succumb to blood lust and allow yourself to forget core principles because it may serve to exact some sort of revenge on your personal object of hatred.. you become that object of hatred.
For us to stand as a society, to survive as a people, and to convey a sense of morality to the world.. we must always keep our principles intact. No matter how tempting the offer to forget them, just this once.