The line between conservative and fascist

Today’s Wall Street Journal has as its featured editorial a piece it calls “The Italian Job”. You can see bits of it at:

This concerns a practice known as extraordinary rendition. Here CIA agents, working with Italian officials, kidnapped an Egyptian imam named Nasr and took him to Egypt where he was tortured and held for 14 months (all allegedly, of course). Now the CIA agents are being prosecuted by an Italian prosecutor.

As a defense attorney who has seen innocents abused, I get prickly about tactics like rendition. In this particular case I agree with the technical legal point they make – that if the CIA agents were acting in cooperation with Italian officials, then our agents should be exempt from prosecution in Italy. That would depend a little on how much the Italians were involved. If it was a CIA operation with help from one local cop, that would not excuse things. Here the Journal says the top two officials at the military intelligence agency are also being prosecuted for their role in the rendition. That suggests a higher level of Italian involvement.

On the legal issue though, the claim that they were acting with cooperation of the Italian government would seem to be an affirmative defense. It should not stop the commencement of the prosecution, though one would hope the Italian government would not allow the prosecution if the defense is genuine.

Anyway, what really bugs me is how the Journal consistently defends or excuses tactics like rendition. The so-called War on Terror is now a justification for anything and everything. The Journal states that “no one … doubts that Nasr posed a security risk.” It mentions that he may have been building a terrorist network and/or was plotting to attack the US Embassy in Rome.

Nice accusations. I grew up in a country where you’re innocent until proven guilty. As far as I know, western Europe generally follows this approach. Nasr wasn’t convicted of anything, of course, but he was held for 14 months and tortured. This is not the kind of thing I want my government doing to people — even the guilty ones. If you think the guy’s a criminal, then arrest him and put him on trial, giving him a chance to defend himself. Our system is actually quite good at convicting the guilty, and still rather prone to convicting the innocent too.

So far we know of one case where an apparently innocent person was the victim of rendition: Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen who was taken from JFK to Syria and tortured there. I would say it’s a safe guess there have been others.

On the one hand these so-called conservatives claim that our country is the greatest country on earth because we have freedom and democracy and capitalism, and our nation respects the rule of law. But then they keep applauding and approving tactics that reek of fascism. Isn’t this the kind of stuff that Hitler and Mussolini did? Hitler justified his tactics by asserting that Jews (and a variety of others) were security risks. A theory of propaganda was that if you say something enough times, people will believe it’s true. I’ve heard that attributed to Goebbels.

All of this War on Terror and security nonsense is destroying our freedom. We just flew to Florida and I had to take off my 2-year-old’s shoes. My wife had her face cream confiscated on our way back from the Bahamas.

There is no War on Terror. There is a war on our freedom, brought against us by the Bush administration with full collaboration by both parties in Congress. There is no war in Iraq. We won the war in Iraq. We’re losing the occupation of Iraq, but it’s not a war. What’s going on there is the failure of the Iraqi government to police its own country, and the failure of our efforts to assist them.

If people are plotting or engaging in terrorist acts in our country, then we should arrest them and prosecute them under our laws. If they are doing such things in other countries, then it is the responsibility of those countries to deal with it. We have taken the role of World Cop so far that we seem to think we are the world government.

Strangely, some people, especially in other countries, don’t like our imperial behavior. That provokes them to plot against us. It would be far less expensive, and better for our security, if we would just get our troops out of the rest of the world and focus on defending our own borders.

The fundamental problem with the neo-con approach is that it never ends. Every time we send our troops somewhere we make more people hate us, and that creates an even greater need for us to send our troops to more places. The cycle keeps getting worse. Our freedom suffers, and so do our bank accounts.

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