You can’t say this wasn’t predictable, but the bigots at Fox News are flipping over President Obama’s decision to try Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving Boston Marathon bomber, in a civilian court and grant him the same rights as any other American citizen.
Megyn Kelly, for one, seemed aghast yesterday to learn that the young man had been allowed to “lawyer up” and would now refuse to incriminate himself under the Fifth Amendment.
(Does it ever seem that the only amendment right-wingers hold sacrosanct is the Second?)
Sean Hannity and Ann Coulter laid out the Fox News position in detail last night and it quickly became apparent that the only standard of legal protection the two favored was whether or not they happened to like you.
Hannity was appalled to learn that the suspect had been given a Miranda warning and couldn’t believe he wouldn’t be tried as an enemy combatant. Coulter responded like the harridan we all love, asking, “Why not just shoot up the boat? If we’re not going to talk to him and get any information about the cell, about any foreign influence, they should have kept shooting when they caught him in the boat. Just give him an automatic death penalty there.” It wasn’t just the suspect that got Coulter’s blonde goat, either. What about the dead brothers’ wife?
Coulter couldn’t restrain herself, snarling: “She ought to be in prison for wearing a hijab.”
Coulter played the Muslim card again, tying the bombing to immigration generally. Oh, it was even worse than just this one Muslim terrorist, she insisted. Immigration in America was broken, our policy of us “assimilating immigrants into our culture isn’t really working. No, they’re assimilating us into their culture.”
Hannity ran with the idea, adding, ‘If people are coming from countries where perhaps they grew up under Sharia law, I think we can make a safe assumption that they have been radicalized.’” Yes, Sean, a safe assumption if you hate Muslims.
It was the same kind of statement people used to make when warning about the dangers of allowing Irish Catholics into this country if Hannity, a Catholic himself, had taken time to let that idea penetrate his thick skull and all the hair gel on top of it. Hannity finally summed up his respect for the U. S. Constitution and human dignity, generally, by saying of the wounded suspect, “I would waterboard him myself.”
Given such sentiments, it’s probably important to say that in the wake of the tragedy in Boston you don’t have to be a right-wing hater to believe that the actions of Tamerlan Tsarnaev and his younger brother were craven and utterly reprehensible. That still doesn’t mean we want to start trashing the U. S. Constitution.
In fact, it’s hard not to notice that folks on the right are only for “freedom” if others agree with every position they’re taking. Remember, for example, the furor Natalie Maynes of the Dixie Chicks aroused when she exercised a little freedom of speech at the start of the War in Iraq and said she was embarrassed to be from the same state as President Bush? That was before thousands of right-wing Texans decided they ought to secede from the union after the 2012 election.
You can find any number of examples of this type of thinking. If you utter the words, “Happy holidays,” around Sarah Palin, it’s not just a cheerful greeting. It’s part of some “war on Christmas” liberals are waging. Meanwhile, Palin and her pals believe that if they repeat the name “Barack Hussein Obama” often enough they can prove that Mr. Obama has no right to be President because he’s a dirty Muslim. Well, just check out Article VI of the U. S. Constitution. It states that “no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust” under the laws of the United States government.
And how about the furor after 9/11 when Muslims tried to build mosques in various neighborhoods? Just because two million U. S. citizens happen to be Muslim that doesn’t mean right-wing defenders of freedom believe they should their exercise freedom of religion.
How about gay Americans? (The right would probably insist that they shouldn’t have to pass background checks if they buy guns over the internet.) When it comes to marriage equality the answer can only be discovered deep in the Bible—where a few verses in Leviticus trump every syllable in the Fourteenth Amendment.
Take a whiff of the smell coming from far-right circles today and you have a hint of the same odor of roasted flesh that once resulted from heretics’ burnings. (Oh, those dirty Jews, remember?) Consider Kelly’s phrase, to “lawyer up,” for example. Clearly, she meant it as a pejorative, implying that the protections Americans enjoy under the Fifth, Sixth and Seventh Amendments have been taken too far, at least by Americans who look different than Kelly (no one on Fox is ever going to mention the thousands of convicted “criminals” who have been freed recently after new DNA evidence was used to prove their innocence). You can almost imagine the grumpy old white folks who make up the channel’s key viewing demographic asking, “What’s happening in this country? Why can’t we go back to the good old days when poor people, especially minorities, never had legal representation?”
Any murderer, be it the man who rapes his neighbor and strangles her in her living room, the young man who walks into a school and sprays children with an assault rifle or attacks a crowd with a pressure cooker-bomb, fills us with revulsion. Still, we try to insure that all suspects are afforded legal counsel because in almost all cases we don’t know if the neighbor is guilty.
Like it or not, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev is an American citizen. He has the same right to counsel as you or I — or even Ann Coulter — would in a similar situation. He may be a naturalized citizen—but he’s no different, legally, than all the naturalized citizens who enlist and serve in our armed forces, or any of the many millions of naturalized citizens who didn’t blow up innocent spectators at the Boston Marathon.
In fact, the very presence of the Tsarnaev brothers on U. S. soil is the perfect example of what makes this nation great when we live up to our ideals. We give shelter to “the tired, the poor, the huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.”
We don’t deal in torture.
We don’t deny human rights.
Or, at least, we shouldn’t.
In fact, whenever people are angry or afraid it is then we most need to restrain our worst instincts, to keep mobs from rising (we used to lynch black “rapists” if you remember), to guard against the instinct for summary justice.
Should we waterboard a suspect if we believe he has accomplices, for example, that there might be imminent threats to bomb a Red Sox game? What if he still doesn’t talk?
Should we cut off his right little finger?
The same logic applies to all sorts of crimes. Suppose a suspect in a kidnapping won’t tell police where he’s holding his victim. He has a little finger on his right hand, as well. And don’t we want to save the kidnap victim?
If we really want a suspect to talk, why stop with one finger?
The problem comes, first, from the gross cruelty and secondly from the fact that often suspects are innocent. Jews were feared during medieval times because it was rumored they killed Christian babies as part of their religious ceremonies. So you had pogroms and immolations. Our own ancestors in Massachusetts feared witches and in 1692, in Salem, sent nineteen innocent individuals to the gallows.
None of the suspects had lawyers. That’s a modern convention. And when one suspect wouldn’t talk they “pressed” him, allowed under law in those happy times, piling weight on his chest in an effort to force him to admit guilt.
He wouldn’t—and the weight killed him.
A more recent example might be what happened to Japanese-Americans after the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Ironic, really—another bombing. Sixty-one years ago our grandparents and great grandparents reacted with anger and fear, just as we might do now, if we’re not careful. The Japanese were hated as a group then—just in the way the far-right hates Muslims today.
So what did we do?
In 1942 we removed 110,000 men, women and children from their homes, including 77,000 U. S. citizens, and stuck them in camps because they looked different and couldn’t be trusted. Eventually, thousands of young Japanese-Americans came out of these camps to fight for this country, including Daniel Inouye, awarded the Medal of Honor for taking out several German machine guns, and later a U. S. Senator from Hawaii.
The concept is simple, really.
“We the People” don’t get to indulge our personal biases or take out our anger on those we suspect of criminal activity.
The Bill of Rights is always the one true guide.