Thursday, January 29, 2009

Due process of law for EVERYONE (not just Americans)

As Americans, we have some sacred rights guaranteed to us by the Constitution. We are innocent until proven guilty. We have a right to a trial with a jury of our peers, we have a right to representation, and we are protected against cruel and unusual punishment.

We have these rights, not because they are easy, or convenient, or expedient. We have these rights because some great men realized that they were necessary for a better country, one where the will of The People trumps that of the government.

I'd like to take our forefather's ideas one step farther. We – as a nation, need to extend those rights to the rest of the world. Not because it's easy, but because it's the right thing to do.

It doesn't matter whether someone is American-born or not. A criminal is a criminal, regardless of their citizenship, and we have rules governing how criminals are to be handled. Our rules work pretty well, and despite the problems we do have, we tend to hold our legal and justice system up as a model for the rest of the world. One of the reasons our government used as justification to depose Saddam Hussein was his unfortunate tendency to throw people he didn’t like into prison and let them rot. How is this any different than what we’ve done to the detainees at Guantanamo Bay or the supposed secret prisons that we may or may not have? Haven’t we thrown people we suspect (but haven’t proven guilty) into a prison and let them rot?

But then, I heard on the radio, a caller who said in reference to the proceeding surrounding the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detainment facility, “those people don’t deserve our protections.”

Huh? Why don’t they? Many of those prisoners were detained because they were merely suspected of terrorist activity. If they were merely under suspicion, and not proven, then why wouldn’t they deserve fair treatment? What if they were actually innocent? Why wouldn’t they deserve counsel, the right to present their case, the right to face their accusers, the right show their innocence? Why shouldn’t we be required to PROVE them guilty? And why are those suspected criminals less deserving of humane treatment than any common – though American – murderer?

Question: What's the difference between Timothy McVey and Osama Bin Laden?
Answer: The country of their birth.

Consider Timothy McVey, who is considered the main conspirator in the bombing of the Oklahoma City Murrah Federal Building, on April 19, 1995. Here are some pictures to jog your memory:

168 people died, and 800 were wounded in this attack. Many of the dead were young children, as the blast destroyed a daycare center in the building. The following picture won a Pulitzer:

The firefighter was named Chris Fields, and the baby was named Baylee Almon. Little Baylee died later that day in the hospital.

Now, I ask you this: Was this event any less disturbing than the ones that occurred on September 11, 2001?

McVey, however was arrested, charged with a crime, given representation by lawyers, tried, and convicted. He was put to death by lethal injection just a few months before the events of 09-11-2001. I'm generally against the death penalty (I just can't agree that a government should have the right to put its citizens to death), but I admit to being so horrified by the Oklahoma City bombing that I won't argue the fairness of McVey's punishment.

And what about folks like Ted Bundy, or John Wayne Gacy? Each were convicted of killing and torturing more than 30 people, though the actual number of murders might have been much higher (some experts think Bundy might have been responsible for the deaths of as many as 100 women). Their actions were particularly gruesome, yet they were given the usual protections guaranteed to them by the Constitution. Both were eventually executed. Why did these men “deserve” better treatment? They certainly weren’t better men.

It gets even more complicated and contradictory – our double standard apparently doesn’t extend to foreign-born criminals actually on American soil, and arrested by local police. Those criminals usually ARE afforded the American Constitutional protections. So what gives here? Why would the location of the arrest, who does the arresting, or the type of crime matter in the least?

Yet, the "enemy combatants" captured in the aftermath of the 9-11 attacks being held at Gitmo have been held for years, never charged with a crime, denied lawyers, possibly tortured, and denied many basic rights guaranteed by the Constitution, all as part of the war on terror.

There are so many unanswered questions: Were the people held at Gitmo caught or suspected of criminal activity against Americans? Was it on American soil? Was there any evidence of wrongdoing?

We. Don’t. Know.

We don't even know if these people really are criminals. Maybe some of them are actually innocent (and some have been shown to be innocent). Why is it OK to deny our basic rights to those individuals?

Consider the case of Murat Kurnaz, who was held for 4 years at Guantanamo Bay. There was little evidence against him, (the classified "evidence" against him consisted of an unsigned memo - no photographs, no sworn depositions, no testimony. Just a piece of paper that someone – no one actually knows who - wrote) he was never charged with any crime, he was possibly tortured. So he spent 4 years in Cuba, with no evidence against him, not being allowed to talk freely with family (his letters were heavily censored), and not until the end was he allowed a lawyer. At least we did eventually release him.

So we treated Mr. Kurnaz – very likely an innocent man – as badly as Saddam Hussein did many of his own people. Without knowing if the people we detain in our efforts to curb terrorists, are innocent or not, we as a people cannot ever take the high road, and neither can our government when we allow shameful things like what happened to Mr. Kurnaz, when we deny our own protections to anyone, ever. How can we look our allies in the eyes, point to Saddam Hussein, and say “he imprisoned people wrongly and denied them due process of law” and yet do the very same thing, and then refuse to stop.

How can we Americans allow this? If we are the greatest nation in the world, then we must take the moral high road, and treat the citizens of the world with the same standards with which we treat our own. After all, if it's good enough for an American, it's good enough for everyone else.

Upcycling shoes to stamps

One technique for making the world a better place -- something that's been recently interesting lots of people around the world (Cathy and I included) is upcycling; the process of turning something worn out into some new other thing. I frequently read great crafty projects for upcycling and the one I read today inspired me to share it here.

So, if you're interested in turning the soles of old shoes into rubber stamps, you can probably figure it out, but check this for some tips.

Eunice Kennedy Shriver

Eunice Kennedy Shriver has worked for 40 years promoting Special Olympics. I don't have any special tie to either, but I've always thought it was a neat organization/event and when I ran across the article on Ms. Shriver above, I figured you might want to see it too!

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

African Soil Map

I have a particular fondness for science and technology. Appropriate Technology is the consideration these things while being mindful of actually making the world a better place, rather than disrupting people to no gain.1

This project to map the African soilscape is most appropriate.

1 Off-topic note: I bear a couple of degrees in technology from the University of Missouri. I once (about fifteen years ago) declared in an upper-level class that Appropriate Technology was a bogus concept because technology is a set of tools that represented progress. I thought at the time that I had an insightful notion about the crushing advance of progress and since it was inexorable to consider this so-called AT was foolish. Turns out I was just a cocky little dumb-ass. Oh well, I guess it happens. Anyway, this is me apologizing to Dr. Michael Wright who was trying to correct my juvenile misperception at the time. :-)

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

The Recession is a Golden Opportunity

(OK, nothing posted for a month. Let's fix that.)

I found this piece by Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor -- the Archbishop of Westminster, published in the Telegraph. It resonates powerfully with me. His focus is on how Christianity requires that as we move through our lives -- in this particular case, as we respond to the current global recession, we strive to make the world better for the disadvantaged. First, I agree with him that this should be the paramount concern of Christians. It was the message of Jesus. But more, this message isn't just for Christians.

This recession is an opportunity. A friend of mine in New York was recently laid off and has taken to volunteering for some nonprofits. As Muphy-O'Connor notes, we can rebuild the economy, but rebuild it a little differently. Maybe this time we can help close the wealth gap between the top and bottom strata of our society. Here's a chance that we can make the world a better place.