Alice, Worried About Indefinite Detention

Mash Gessen in her NY Times Latitude blog of October 29, reports on the severe oppression of free speech in Russia and the horrible prison conditions experienced by those women, as well as further developments in the normal day-to-day repression of speech and political freedom in the Russian “democracy.” Gessen is apparently able to maintain her freedom to write as she does because of her dual citizenship in Russia and the United States, which affords her—and us some special benefit.

Indefinite detention is a reality in the U.S. also, a reality we would have thought impossible two or three decades ago, but now it is “home” for us as well, allowing us to join a long list of undistinguished far-flung nations, but with our own special additional banner of freedom and “peace” which we have maintained by being perpetually at war, somewhere in the world.

We are also experiencing a strange war of words over this potential for U.S. citizens to experience indefinite military detention. Hedges, et al, v. Obama, is a case brought by journalists concerned for their freedom if, in the course of their research, they have contact with people deemed to be certified enemies of the U.S. (Hedges v. Obama, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 12-cv-331, and Hedges v. Obama, 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, No. 12-3176) This case, born out of clauses beginning in the 2012 NDAA, continues, apparently, to live in some never-never-land, some illusory reality turned upside down so that only Alice can apparently see it. Yet the Republican led House Armed Services Committee has seen fit to muster a loud defense against our illusory fears.

However, Alice (and the man-behind-the-curtain) seem to have their defenders, not the least of whom is Jimmy Carter in his June 24, 2012 NY Times Op-Ed, “A Cruel and Unusual Record,” an almost lonesome voice among official Democrats gone mute in their defense of a law President Obama says that he would never use. And, apparently the potential reality of our concerns may only be observed at the Federal District level—maybe it’s something like the difference between Newtonian gravitational effects and Relativistic gravitational effects—as the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that “On its face, the statute does not affect the existing rights of United States citizens or other individuals arrested in the United States,” ordering the emergency freeze of District Judge Katherine Forrest’s May 16, 2012 injunction (she apparently saw something grave somewhere) against section 1021 of the 2012 NDAA to continue until an expedited full hearing near the end of this year, or early in 2013. Yet, it remains to be asked, if this legal power for the military to detain U.S. citizens, in fact, does not exist, then why did President Obama, in his signing statement have to make a point of telling us he would never use it: “I want to clarify that my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens.”? Curiouser and curiouser.

The oppression of free speech and the inhumane prison conditions in Russia are disturbing, but then we, the leaders of the “free world” have the highest per capita prison population on the planet (2003 UN data, 2008 European Commission data). Is it that we’re doing something so right (can you hear that Paul Simon song?) to be so successful in giving birth to and rounding up our ever expanding cult of criminals? Surely a question worthy of any Alice lost in any land wherever. Or, is it now, “whatever”?