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by Sam Staples
Friday, Dec. 14, 2007 at 11:00 PM
Are political guarantees just so man words on paper to be used for political speeches? Who is ultimately responsible for enforcing principles of law in a republic? Given the reality that justice is very much a human concept, what can people presume, if anything, about such abstract words as “justice” and “fairness: before the law? What informs these legal meanings that people too often take for granted? Dedicated to the prisoners at Guatanamo who are or were innocent and to their lawyers who are attempting to bring justice to bear.
Chapter Six: The Legality of Justice Versus Blind Faith by Sam Staples
Part of a book called: When God became the Terrorist: Traces of the Authoritarian Personality in the Three Abrahamic Religions.
This book is dedicated to the prisoners at Guatanamo who are or were innocent and to their lawyers who are attempting to bring justice to bear.
Are political guarantees just so man words on paper to be used for political speeches? Who is ultimately responsible for enforcing principles of law in a republic? Given the reality that justice is very much a human concept, what can people presume, if anything, about such abstract words as “justice” and “fairness: before the law? What informs these legal meanings that people too often take for granted?
If an accused is to be judged in a court of law, how is he or she to be so judged, and by what criteria? What codes of procedures, if any, will be followed (or can be expected to be followed)? What legal mechanisms will, or should, be provided and enforced by judicial institutions so citizens can presume some stands of justice are met?
The King Was a Good Man:
Early Christianity that evolved into European and Northern African history, operated as conditioning model for predominately “monarchic” governments of Kingship and bishoprics.
There were a plentitude of duchies, principalities and kingdoms that would evolve, as a common vassal would not have given much thought to such notions as voting in leaders and officers. Equally you, if you lived back then, would not likely thought to vote in your God or his personality as if some kind of choice. Both authorities were assigned to you without your input as you were destined and born. Yet you owed your King, or prince, or Duke an allegiance of loyalty (fealty).
The law was, for the most part, whatever you were instructed it was. There were no regular town meetings about your rights and liberties. It was not about listening to candidates stumping their opinions to you so that you could mull over ideas and who to vote. You simply were not a focal point.
And in some ways many people today still live in this top down hierarchy in their workplaces. An employee is expected to show a great deal of loyalty and deference to corporate leaders that they work—irrespective of such leaders’ competence, fairness, or sense of ethics.
Even libertarians, in their religious devotion to rhetorical dogma, in which they worry much about excess in government, give little lip service to concern of excess of corporate power, debilitating greed and corruption.
We digress. Back to your time-machined vassalage. If you spoke out against your King, or one of his fellow ranking officers (irrespective of the righteousness of your attitudes) you could be despised and punished as a traitor, because you were not paying your required respect.
Loyalty is a very important value to many people, some who willingly sacrifice even their own lives for honor, family, state, and religion. People tend to take their patriotism in a religious sense—and expect others to do the same—at least rhetorically. Either way they will not understand dissidents not showing loyalty to the symbols and positions they think demand it.
Chivalrous knights took oaths to defend the Church and to make war against infidels without cessation or mercy (similar to some Muslims who are taught to war against infidels (see Koran (:123). Church and State were married with many of the same values. In essence knights and their men became pawns to leaders of the realm they swore allegiance. Good warriors of zealous ardor they were—but they were not necessarily astute to the guile of backroom deals that played their loyalties like poker chips.
Your king, during those European Middling Ages, for all intents and purposes, was your god. He had “Divine Right” justification for his actions. (And notice that the word ‘justification’ contains the word ‘just’ as in ‘justice’.) Kings, like their knights, were appointed and anointed by a pageantry of sacred ritual that often involved the church’s consent.
And what could you do if you did not like the king? Or what if this king, or his prince, or one of his associates did not especially like you? What recourse did you the governed have legally to dispute and rights of redress? How much power in the Princely realm, as a peasant, were you likely to wield (not too different from being homeless today)? And how would you have arrived at such power if you could manage to muster any—that is if you felt the system a smidgen unfair?
Naturally , some kings were more noble and righteous than were others—depending on their personalities, political styles, attitudes, and circumstances of the day (or if the king “got” religion). Any way, some were more disposed to kindness or fairness (equally depending on your own situation and status). So a kings could be fair-minded and practical as a monarch—using “good” judgment—even while he held most cards. Why not? Humanity has such capacity to be fair.
But more importantly, what kept a king, or his men, from tyranny when he held the cards? Traditions have a way of reinforcing the power of those currently in power. What checks were there to balance out abuse? And who was to define abuse? What institutions were there to counter injustice? And what kept the Holy Church, often allied with the king, from various forms of tyranny as well?
These are questions we American should revisit in our seemingly complaisant age of presumption. Because if you were a bit of a rascal then what would have kept you out of the king’s private dungeon? You remember those dank, dark and dangerous dungeons you read about while exploring castles and saving damsels from their celibate and protective towers?
Dungeons were just as real as were ivied towers. But, they were hid away from the daily grind of life—like underground (or at lest “rendered” outside the normal order of community life so others could not see nor hear). Would you have been “tortured” in the king’s dungeon (not far removed from Dante’s description of the eternal infernal)?
Once you landed in the brink (hopefully on you feet) you likely had few options available. Or do you think the kings henchmen were going to let you talk to a lawyer for the “privilege” of confidential and fair representation in a law court?
And when was the last time some soul was released from Hades to get past the entry sentinel as three-headed dog named Cerberus? One fierce dog can terrorize the soul enough to cause some serious upset stomach—not to mention dealing with the Hydra gyrations of three dog necks set to snarling and slavering with cynical and bare teeth. You had better have some “think” naked skin, since dogs can be trained to dislike you a bit—don’t you know—and they can show you a ferocity of spirit with both sinewy muscle and canine dental power that can easily overwhelm a naked ape’s sensorium. Perhaps some dogs have the temperament of some people—vicious and vile—at least one’s imagination could assume if “stressed” out a bit?
Thus finding your self in the Empire’s dungeon of “carce-ration” (as not have been put to death which may have been a better fate) you come to realize that you do not likely have too many, if any, “rights” (although public relations experts may be saying otherwise, in the rhetorical sense for those in the outside community to believe).
Not many people back then were organizing or sending donations to an International Red Cross, or Amnesty International, or Human Rights Watch, or ACLU. And even if the Red Cross existed back then, and had some status of clout, do you think the Emperor had to honor any kind of international agreement, protocol, or social pressure to allow visitations of inquiry? Do you think the Emperor, and his team, had to make allowances to the consensus of other states or peoples?
[Note: according to Ann Gearan of the Associated Press, Karen Hughes, bush buddy and Undersecretary of State, was quoted to have said: “ It may take decades to change anti-American feelings around the world”. Now why could this be the case? Illegal retention of prisoners and prisoner abuse was not mentioned in the article. But could it be that people around the world consider our policies on combatant prisoners, gulag systems and torture as moral issues?]
Rendered All Alone?
If the body of law (or religious literature) is thick enough are there ways to rationalize or justify whatever you or your group wants to justify? Are there not always creative minds able and willing to rationalize any kind of moral ethic—even that which is diametrically opposed to moral ethic?
While in the dungeon you could be water starved or hung out to dry in public. You might not even know the name(s) of your accuser(s), or what potential evidence existed that could be used against you (be it rumored, manufactured, or otherwise). There was likely no place for discovery. There was few guaranteed fairness rules on the books of enforced regarding the presentation of evidence of the disputation of it.
Who would have been arguing for a “fair” trial—as we Americans have come to understand the abstract concept? In fact there might not have been a trial at all. Your trial might consist of you praying while henchmen unleashed you from a rack to be noosed for your hanging. To pray originally meant to “beg”.
Or if there was a trial, was there any right to a lawyer with a sincere interest in protection you or your rights?
Nor would you have asked to “read” the law (assuming you could read with nay sophistication as few schools taught peasants). It is not like you could walk into some county law library and gander a morass of complication in fine print, set down and orchestrated to a labyrinth of specific delineations by state assemblies (assumed to be based on some sort of substantiated principles). Surmise it as faith if you will that dungeons were not well equipped with the niceties of legal libraries or reading lights for your perusal. Nor was anyone available to assist the non-tutored self on the legal jargon.
And what was “habeas corpus” to you besides a strange Latin phrase? Certainly this conception was not some “liberal” idea that sprang from either the Bible or Koran? You could be dead for years before anyone in you family knew with certainty—irrespective of your nationality, political party, or religious suasion.
In fact what laws regarding “fair” trial and evidence have ever been proposed for God’s judgment day as mentioned in the Bible? None existed in the way that we think of principles of justice today. Why? Because it is “presumed” on faith that God is just, fair, and all knowing—that is he is beyond question for noble spirit and magnanimous judgment.
Few skeptics think to question “his” anthropomorphic form of justice (“projected” human-like personality). Or what kind of trial does one come to expect to confront in the conference rooms of St Peter (a Saint no one questions in regards to any bias or delusional neuroses)? Or, if God is all knowing, wise, and powerful, why was there to be a hearing in the first place? Or why all the religious rhetoric about the masses doomed to suffer?
On one hand you have this Egyptian mulatto (metaphorically) who understands the Egyptian ways, named Moses. This Moses guy became violently upset over revelers worshipping a golden calf. He gets outraged to the point of smashing his famous stone tablets and then having 3000 or so idolaters of his own tribe killed (that some claim this histrionics’ “finest” hour).
On the other hand you have social Christian conservatives who complain about spoiling America’s prisoners and calling for harsher punishments.
On another hand you have the New Testament’s John 2:18 saying: “He that believeth not is condemned already … properly belongs to hell”, which is psychological blackmail and coercion in a sense. On the other hand you have John Locke saying in this 2nd Treatise of Government:
“He who attempts to get another man in his absolute power does hereby put himself in a state of war withy him … he who would get me into his power without my consent would use me as he pleased when he had got me there, and destroy me too when he had a fancy to it … fore nobody can desire to have me in his absolute power unless it be to compel me by force … that is to make me a slave.” (Sound like a foreign power tactic?)
Rather we citizens, even to this day, are arrested to a state of trepidation to the very idea of a final judgment due to its ramifications of hope or utter damnation. The paranoia was, and still is, enough to keep most off kilter from having equanimity to think freely and to question the lockstep of jackboot hell or conformist heaven.
Yet we, mortal egos, did not dreamily will, before our birthings: “Wow would it not be nice to be born into a world of political consequence where the odds against me, just then to die to a re-birthing into another political sphere that is equally risky and in which I just might be suffering a very long eternal time?” “Yes I want to chance that! Wow that sounds like a fair proposition by a loving and delightful Godhead to offer such a great bargain!
Meanwhile will the king allow me the right to speak for my own defense in his kangaroo court? Maybe? Will anyone have a right to speak in my defense? Will a judge to appointed who is predisposed of professionally required to even care about my opinion, carcass, or sense of impartial justice—even if I am allowed to speak? Or will I be cut off the minute I begin to speak?
Will there be opportunity of cross examination? Will I even be allowed at my own trial? Or how about a “public” trial—which is not the same thing as a sensationalized trial like that of O.J. Simpson. Are we looking at “secret” proceedings?
As likely it would be secret, similar to “privatized” corporate databases funded by public monies, but with no recourse to FIOA, secretly “profiling” information on masses of people, willy-nilly on dubious suspicion or political heresy, at the behest of those with power and wealth—which is itself a kind of “secret” gathering of judgment. That is thank to elected officials who passed the fascist Patriot Act and the and media fifth columnists who allowed it (officials who stymie on the question regarding whether water-boarding is torture so as to completely negate any focus or attention on people killed in the torture process).
We digress. Will there be a jury of “peers” in Orwell’s dystopia? Or might a public trial become a staged event to intimidate others? Dictators have had trials and elections—even if rigged.
Or you could be more or less left to rot. You could be starved of all food or water deprived. Chances of nutritious diet would not be terribly high. You could go deranged by a lack of specific amino acids, vitamins, minerals, or just caloric content.
There were no health inspectors worrying about building codes. Clean air was a relative term. Bathroom? Depends. And when would a nurse or chaplain have habit to come around? You had better have a long memory. Besides there is no suggestion doctors or interns are floating around hell healing burn scar tissue. God is not concerned—why should the hench guards? Things are presumed ghoulish—at least to artist renditions and biblical explanations rendered.
A Question of Justice:
Now with slavish prostration to the idea of “out-sourcing” prison management to private companies, will corporate types be so interested in profits that they will allow for inadequate consideration for the welfare of prisoners (given their performance and motives found lacking in Iraq)?
Or do we just accept bestial sneers like: “So what if they have to live and sleep in over-crowed conditions? So what if prisoners today are mistreated or neglected—they violated society’s laws and people in the process? Too bad if they do not have money or connections to hire good lawyers?
But what we especially note is not a weighted sense of citizenry justice—but rather an inflamed passion of hatred, revenge, and willingness to select the ideas one is willing to contemplate as rationalization.—the potential tyranny of either a outspoken minority or majority.
Justice is too often adjudicated by the tyranny of personality, politics, and inflamed prejudice and propaganda. Plato was right in his distrust of “absolute” democracy of the mob—in which he believed the average person was not especially wise in any learned sense. It is an ideological and political conceit to grant too much power to a base majority—especially when it is not well educated, nor curious to learn the particulars of a matter, but still zealously compulsive to jump to judgments nevertheless.
However, wariness of the tyranny of the self-righteous and aggressive is not to advocate for an elitist hierarchy as top down arbiter of injustice. Montesquieu was right when he advocated for a separation and balance of powers. Further it should be noted to Thomas Jefferson’s credit, he thought that it is because people are social that they have a moral sense: “… state a moral case to a ploughman and a professor and the former will judge it s well as the latter.” (And we note neither was inundated by right-wing radio hosts casting spells on insipid and stupid minds—the fact is there was some residual of intellect in the 18th century—now we cannot even presume it inside the beltway).
Whereas the CFO of Enron got six years (no small amount) for that company’s snakes bilking millions or billions; we have right-wing radio hosts scoring big points screaming for tough love harsher treatment for the likes of blue-collar people or minorities who are busted for being addicts. Meanwhile profits are up for 4-profit imprisoning corporations.
Pathetic Apathy Goes to the Pharmacy:
How is it that the human mind can so readily disassociate self from those whose fates suffer un-rightly?
[Note: This may sound like bleeding heart and liberal whining to some, but this is not arguing that criminals never deserve incarceration, or that some are not despicable persons and personalities. The point is why does the public not monitor these institutions of human hell more closely so there is some humane treatment—rather than allowing for the potential of cruel and unusual punishment?]
There is a kind of national character that reflects a mirror on a moral system that is too negligent and too vengeful. Alex de Tocqueville said in 1835: “In America … the spirit of gain is always on the stretch … the human constantly diverted from the pleasures of imagination and the labors of the intellect, is there swayed by no impulse but the pursuit of wealth”. Well what about more curiosity in respect to how society works and common responsibility for prisoner welfare?
As an existential threat one rhetorically needs to ask: “How is it that some souls are imagined to be eternally happy in heaven (in the afterlife paradise) if they readily know, on a moment by moment basis, that other souls are “eternally” suffering in a hell with no possibility of parole or redemption? How could a true spirit of conscience make pardon for this nonchalance or indifference?
It seems that the only way presumptively heaven bound people (the chosen) could come to view eternal torture and damnation as divine justice is either through brainwashing, dis-association, prejudice, fascist personality, or enough psychological isolation of not really being able to appreciate what goes on in hell, or gulag, or Guantanamo, etc?
Heaven then must be some metaphor for the well-to-do suburban lifestyle of the middle and upper classes with the right pedigrees? It must be for those people eternally distracted form serious issues that have the luxury of ignorance and wealth accumulation—even if one’s country’s “real” foreign policy is forever violating the rights and needs of foreign peoples—for the chosen minority?
The Land of the Free:
In the last 50 years or so the incarceration rates in America have increased “ten” fold. Does this sound like a potential evolution of a police state? Or is American really that criminal that it needs more prisoners locked up per capita than all other cultures? Or are some in power anticipating a need to imprison masses of people in the future so they continue to build new prisons?
When conditions in a prison are crowded then fights and hostility ore likely ensues. Riots and gang wars more likely ensue. Social scientists the world over knows these truths about crowded animal and human conditions.
Prison torture can include things as simple as excess noise and living with mentally ill but dangerous people. There are a lot of psychological conditions that can make for a hell. It does not have to be actual violence.
Too many prisoners today are not even doing time for violent or serious crime. In fact too many are in for drugs and that are not necessarily that dangerous—that are not as detrimental to self or society as alcohol. What a price tag for taxpayers!
Fox Butterfield in the New York Times wrote of a study which found more mentally ill in jail that in hospitals. Have we regressed backwards—to days before revolutionaries like Dr. Jean Charot—the man who challenged the idea that mentally ill should be locked up as “deserving” of criminal treatment because hey were thought to have sinned against God as reason for their insanity? That was back in the 17th century.
And speaking of the institutionally insane, her you are again left off earlier in the king’s dungeon—or did you expect to have been sprung so easily? Bail? What is a bondsman? You would not be here in the first place had you connections or bribe money.
Fire fir warmth? You’re a funny waif. It doesn’t take you a fortnight to realize that a blanket is a nice thing indeed. But you have plenty of time to contemplation the physics of heat conduction—especially on that full stomach.
Your only company may be your bodily fluids. The proximity of your defecation (“dung” as in dungeon) is now your estate. With no running water? This is by decree of Divine Right of Kings! Why in London they chop off your head!
“Jurisprudence is the academic term for understanding the philosophy and psychology of law, and the application of its principles to a given society. The word is composed of two roots: ‘juris’ as related to ‘justice’ and ‘prudence’ which implies wisdom and foresight.
Justice, prudence, and wisdom are not attributes of virtue that one just happens to inherit when growing up. How does one learn to deal with other human beings—those variety of personalities and dispositions—that exist in every community? How does one come to understand and hopefully accept various kinds of social arrangements that could be one’s lot—depending on history, culture, custom, circumstance, etc.?
So we now dare ask, as skeptics and cynics, as relevant to this book’s focus: “What does the Bible, as both Old and New Testaments, and the Koran, either guarantee, state or imply, about issues and criteria of justice—especially since there is so much foreboding reference to mankind being judged by the high God of the Middle East? The consequences loom large and are eternal. What principles of jurisprudence, if any, can any one expect in the Divine Court—save an appearance by the “accuser” or “adversary”?
An Eye For An Eye:
Is the “eye for an eye” clause of retaliation not in fact a second injustice perpetuated against a first injustice—especially when respect of one tribe against another—being it no more just?
Justice is indeed a human dilemma—to try to decide or act out in the real world of real political conflict. At times it is harder to judge as a human than as it would be for an all-knowing God removed from the real world. We live in a world of much gray matter and a rainbow of colors—not in a world of black and white. Real time judgment in a constantly changing world requires much learning—and a tolerance for mistakes—but even more a willingness to change one’s mind.
An eye for an eye is a form of justice to be sure—but it is a man made justice. It is not sacrosanct—just like killing 4 Palestinians for 1 Israeli killed is not a form of Divine Justice. Verbal excuses are in relation to what the market will bear—that is if one is not wrapped in the cloth of blind faith.
Humanity plays God when it feels empathy or sympathy for others. People come to believe that a just God can relate to the human condition and would do the same.
Is Justice Divinely Inspired?
Should law judges have some discretion in punishment? Are not circumstances different for each defendant? Why should politicians, who want to “appease” a perceived tyranny of outspoken voters, have the final say about somebody’s life, especially when justice is something they cannon much comprehend?
We live in a “spy” society that is evolving a massive campaign of social surveillance. Many technologies are introduced to solve one problem but police find new ways to use them for more and more violation of personal privacy.
Meanwhile people are continuously terrorized into thinking to not trust strangers, or men, or sex offenders, or terrorists, or foreigners, etc. Everyone is suspect. The Nazi template is happening all over again with the gullible middle class drinking the Kool-Aid. Only this time right-wing Zionists are equally involved in the brown shirt production. Someday even white, middle class Christians will be eligible cell mates with brown Muslim political prisoners.
Currently Californians en masse went along with the three strikes your out law (because theory always sounds better on paper). The official word is that these criminals all are “vetted” as too dangerous—but ridiculous parodies of justice are glaringly apparent. Petty larceny crimes are putting people back into prison for life. Whereas perpetrators of corporate scandal steal billions see not a single day in jail.
Better Than the Third World!
Yes prison life is definitely better here than in many other parts of the world. Harsh legal systems have people so cramped that they can not move while sleeping on the floor. It is worst than chickens and pigs in large corporate farms.
So why is not the State Department not particularly focused on penal systems around the world—not just countries we don’t like—but countries we consider business partners? Why is there not more news about the penal systems in Iraq today? What does it mean to “export” democracy?
Dinesh D’Souza says in a news paper article that religion provides something that secular society does not—a vision of transcendent purpose. He says it seems perplexing that nature would breed a group of people who see no higher purpose to life or the universe.
Well maybe it has something to do with “real” justice on earth—rather than castles in the sand? But then he D’Souza is the same person, in his The Enemy At Home: The Cultural Left and Its Responsibility for 9/11, who supposedly wrote ridiculous assertions about America’s leftists while he raged against the separation of Church and State.
But even more fundamental is the question of what is the nature of the Church and the nature of the State—why should anyone presume such character is automatically of quality?
It is citizens’ responsibility to learn what his or her country’s internal policies and actual practices in regard to prisoners (in reality) including all countries the State Department has relationship (Israel and its penal system as well). If necessary it may mean challenging inhumane conditions—not presuming an omnipresent “state” or swashbuckling security company to take care of the matter. Do we really want a Monarchy Mentality and evolving Police State in this country—because that is what we are fast track getting?
Blind Faith or Legality of Justice? Amen.
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