Religious Faith in Government Accusations

The Washington Post, today:

The case against Saeed Mohammed Saleh Hatim seemed ironclad.

Justice Department alleged that Hatim, a detainee at the U.S. military
prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, trained at an al-Qaeda military camp in
Afghanistan, stayed at terrorist guesthouses and even fought in the
battle of Tora Bora. . . .

But a federal judge reviewed the case and found the government's evidence too weak to justify Hatim's confinement.
The judge ordered the detainee's release, ruling that he could not rely
on Hatim's statements because they had been coerced. He also found that
the government's informer was "profoundly unreliable."

case is more the rule than the exception. Federal judges, acting under
a landmark 2008 Supreme Court ruling that grants Guantanamo Bay
detainees the right to challenge their confinements, have ordered the
government to free 32 prisoners and backed the detention of nine others.

In their opinions, the judges have gutted allegations and questioned
the reliability of statements by the prisoners during interrogations
and by the informants. Even when ruling for the government, the judges
have not always endorsed the Justice Department's case. . . .

Legal scholars and outside experts who have studied the issue say the government is likely to suffer further losses because many cases appear to be built on the same kinds of evidence that have drawn such skepticism . . . .

other words, if one hears only the Government's unchallenged, untested
accusations about detainees and others whom it labels Terrorists and
Enemy Combatants, it semes clear and obvious that the person is an
Evil, Dangerous and Bad Man. But when those accusations are actually
subjected to scrutiny by courts, it turns out that -- in the
overwhelming majority of cases -- there is virtually no reliable
evidence to support them. Even beyond those cases, Lawrence Wilkerson,
former Chief of Staff to Colin Powell, had access to detainee files and
that a huge number of Guantanamo detainees -- constantly accused of
being the Worst of the Worst -- were, in fact, completely innocent, as
even the Bush administration came to acknowledge. It's unsurprising
that the Government would falsely accuse so many people: unlike in
traditional (i.e., real) wars, where POWs are captured
in uniform, as part of an army and on a battlefield, most of the people
accused of being Terrorists and Enemy Combatants are captured far away
from any battlefield: in their homes, walking on the street, at work,
etc. The potential for both error and abuse (and thus the need for
real safegurads) is radically greater.

Despite those
facts, a religious-like faith in government pronouncements continues to
dominate debates over Terrorism and civil liberties, virtually always
along these lines:

"Of course the President is right to detain dangerous people without charges or trials where they can't convict them. Of course the President is right to target dangerous people, including American citizens, for assassination. Of course
the President is right to order that they be denied civilian trials,
that they be rendered to other countries, that they be eavesdropped on
without warrants, that they be 'interrogated harshly,' that they be put
before military commissions."

"Why is it so clear that the President is right to do these things?"

"Because these people are Terrorists and Enemy Combatants, trying to kill Americans, and they don't have these rights!"

"Since they haven't had a trial, how do you know that they're Terrorists and Enemy Combatants trying to kill Americans"?

"Because the Government said so!"

is the mentality that persists more strongly and more pervasively than
ever -- even in the face of the above-cited evidence demonstrating how
frequently the Government's claims in this regard are false. I can't
even count the number of times I encounter this exact
"reasoning." It's hard to imagine any mindset more impervious to
reason and evidence than this, or any thought-process more blatantly
tautological and self-negating. And yet, on a bipartisan basis, our
entire system of Government, its core safeguard of checks and balances,
and basic due process are being rapidly dismantled, all justified by
this warped, faith-based reasoning.

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