Thursday, April 05, 2007

Pax Romana

I've been very cautious about leaping to the conclusion that George W. Bush's piety, or even his projected piety, had a profound, rather than incidental, impact on his world view. He projects the image of the aggrieved Christian striking back more in sorrow than in anger, but I've never believed it was his true personality showing through. He is a child of privilege, used to having his own way or being bailed out of situations that go sour. There is little in his background to indicate he would reflexively turn to God for salvation from his troubles, rather than speak of God in public because it plays well in Peoria.

But listening to this story, I'm reconsidering that position. Bush may still not be as Christian as he wants to appear, but there are some definite religious notions lurking in his policies.

I'm sure this is not an original idea, but it is clear to me now that "extraordinary rendition" could not have come up under any other President, and that it is rooted in a particular religious idea: that of America as "holy ground," as the "shining city on a hill," as the place God has especially blessed. As such, it must be maintained inviolate. That, of course, was the great "sin" of 9/11: that foreigners, using our systems, our technologies, our planes, against us, attacked our "holy ground," penetrated the barrier of the oceans that were supposed to protect "Fortress America," and there could be only one response: destructive retaliation.

Well, that much is hardly unique to America. But now, as a result of that act, we have "extraordinary rendition." And it is justified in part by law. The Supreme Court has never clearly stated that American law applies outside America (unlike, say, Germany, where Donald Rumsfeld can be charged with crimes he did not commit in Germany. I am simplifying here, and I know it.) There are untried and untouched questions of jurisdiction when the American government acts outside the political boundaries of the 50 states. This, too, is a reflection, though, not just of our jursiprudence, but of our "holiness." Holiness requires a boundary, a line, a sharp distinction between "us" and "them," between "here" and "there." It is that distinction that extraordinary rendition exploits.

Consider: American citizens in America are subject to due process. We do not "kidnap" such people off the streets, secret them in "black prisons" somewere in this country, torture them, keep them imprisoned indefinitely, deny them all acess to lawyers or courts. Not here. Not in the holy ground.

But over there, in, say, Ethiopia? Well, that is not holy ground. Outside the bounds of God's chosen country, anything can happen, and those who live there, as well as Americans who go there, can safely be treated as "outlaw," in the old sense of the word: one who is outside the bounds, and so outside the protection, of the law. This is the rest of the world as frontier, as lawless place, a place where order is only established by US military bases and naval carrier groups and ruthless repression in "black prisons" because, after all, "those people" are unholy, and American citizens who mingle with them, who go to live among them, are likewise corrupted. Having placed themselves beyond the protection of the law, therefore, they are undeserving of its protections. And so this Administration defends its extraordinary practice of what can only be considered criminal acts with no warrant in law or national security whatsoever.

But it is not security they are trying to establish: it is purity. It is holiness. The holy ground has been defiled, and the price of that defilement has been paid in blood. But it cannot be futher defiled with still more "outlaws." So we must do what needs to be done, and keep our holy ground pure. It is not just that we should not know; but that we cannot know. Because what is being done, is being done to keep us holy, to keep us clean; to maintain our blessing.

The rest of the world, who are not blessed as we are, either do not understand the burdens of the blessing, or are jealous of our special favor. Their concerns, therefore, are not to be regarded. We have God on our side. We are God's holy people.

This seems to be the logic behind this Administration's actions. God help us all.

And why do I bring this up today? Coincidence, I suppose:

In a new report published today (5 April), Amnesty International says that 80% of detainees at the US military prison at Guantánamo Bay in Cuba are being held in solitary confinement, often in harsh and inhumane conditions.


Amnesty International UK Director Kate Allen said:

'The entire process at Guantánamo is a travesty of justice, but we have particular concerns over the widespread use of solitary confinement in harsh conditions at the camp.

'With many prisoners already in despair at being held in indefinite detention on a remote island prison, some are dangerously close to full-blown mental and physical breakdown after years of solitary confinement.

'The US authorities should immediately stop pushing people to the edge with extreme isolation techniques and allow proper access for independent medical experts and human rights groups.'

There are approximately 385 men held at Guantánamo Bay and, after an apparent hardening of US operational detention policy in January, around 300 of these are now being held in three units with minimal contact with other prisoners or even prison guards. These units - known as Camp 5, Camp 6 and Camp Echo - are comparable to so-called 'super-max' high security units in the United States.

Unlike mainland super-max prisoners, however, Guantánamo detainees are held indefinitely as 'enemy combatants', face either no trial at all or an unfair one, have no family visits and no independent expert examinations.
Things we cannot do "here," we can do "there." After all, in the provinces, like Galilee, the people are so much more barbaric than in the civilized centers, like Rome.

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