Monday, August 25, 2008

The Great Conspiracy

We always hear about government conspiracies -- the government is engaged in a cover-up operation. They manipulate public opinion, they hide the facts. There are many sites dedicated to telling you about the things "the government doesn't want you to know". We are constantly on the alert for government propaganda.

What if some other organization was engaged in a propaganda campaign? What if their primary outlet for misdirection and misinformation was the internet and the news media? Would you recognize it for what it is?

I submit that there is indeed a massive propaganda campaign taking place in America, one that uses half-truths and disinformation to steer public opinion in certain directions, and odds are pretty good you've already fallen for it.

I spend some time on Yelp. It's an internet site dedicated to reviewing local businesses, restaurants, etc. They have a "talk" section for discussions and it's surprising to me how frequently discussions bring up something that's anti-America. If you attempt to criticize China for blocking iTunes in order to prevent access to the Tibet album, you'll be quickly shushed by people who will tell you about several bad things America has done and that we therefore have no right to criticize China.

This escalated into a private chat with one guy. Here's a snippet from his email:
I think the reason why there's a lot of "anti-american sentimate" is because the america we live in isn't the free country we were raised to believe in. We've lost the right to protest and civil dissobediance can now be labeled as terrorism. We don't have the right to a trial any more. We don't even have the right to vote... did you know that we haven't met UN fair election standards in YEARS?
We don't have the right to a trial? Oh, those evil government bastards have done it again! Damn George Bush and the Republican party! I shall vote for Obama!


Let's check some facts.

I know what he's referring to. The "Military Commissions Act of 2006". Long time readers of my MySpace blog may recall this discussion. Let me dredge up the arguments:

Propaganda: "We have lost the right of habeas corpus -- essentially, the right to demand a trial while being detained."

No doubt many of you have heard this.

Did you believe it?

If so, you are a victim of a massive propaganda campaign, this being one small part of it.

But let's make it interesting. What does Wikipedia say?

The November 13, 2001, Presidential Military Order gave the President of the United States the power to detain suspects, suspected of connection to terrorists or terrorism as an unlawful combatant. As such, it was asserted that a person could be held indefinitely without charges being filed against him or her, without a court hearing, and without entitlement to a legal consultant. Many legal and constitutional scholars contended that these provisions were in direct opposition to habeas corpus and the United States Bill of Rights.
Hmm, that's interesting. A person can be held indefinitely without charged being filed? Many legal scholars contend that it's in opposition to habeas corpus and the Bill of Rights? That sounds serious. It sounds like any of us could be declared as terrorists and held without a trial!

What does it say about the Military Commissions Act?
The text of the law states that its "purpose" is to "establish procedures governing the use of military commissions to try alien unlawful enemy combatants engaged in hostilities against the United States for violations of the law of war and other offenses triable by military commission." While the most controversial provisions in the law refer to "alien unlawful enemy combatants", section 948a refers to "unlawful enemy combatants" (not explicitly excluding US citizens).
Oh dear. Section 948a refers to unlawful enemy combatants without specifying alien, meaning it might apply to U.S. citizens?? That is serious!

Let's just quote section 948a and see what it says:

`Sec. 948a. Definitions

    `In this chapter:
      `(1) UNLAWFUL ENEMY COMBATANT- (A) The term `unlawful enemy combatant' means--
        `(i) a person who has engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents who is not a lawful enemy combatant (including a person who is part of the Taliban, al Qaeda, or associated forces); or
        `(ii) a person who, before, on, or after the date of the enactment of the Military Commissions Act of 2006, has been determined to be an unlawful enemy combatant by a Combatant Status Review Tribunal or another competent tribunal established under the authority of the President or the Secretary of Defense.

So wait, it turns out that section 948a is the "Definitions" section and the only mention of an "unlawful enemy combatant" that does not specify "alien" is the bit where it actually defines what an "unlawful enemy combatant" IS?

And where is this phrase used in regards to habeas corpus?


    `(e)(1) No court, justice, or judge shall have jurisdiction to hear or consider an application for a writ of habeas corpus filed by or on behalf of an alien detained by the United States who has been determined by the United States to have been properly detained as an enemy combatant or is awaiting such determination.

So in the actual bill, it says that in order for this to apply, you have to be an alien.

So wait, who is this bill actually aiming at, anyway?
`Sec. 948c. Persons subject to military commissions
    `Any alien unlawful enemy combatant is subject to trial by military commission under this chapter.

    So, our friend up top suggested that we have all lost the right to a trial. He knows, because a huge propaganda campaign told him so. Told us all. It was on the news.

    This sentiment is echoed across the internet and Wikipedia isn't exactly clearing it up for you.

    Yet when I go and actually look up the text of the bill and read the whole thing, I see that it doesn't apply to American citizens. Basically you have to be a non-American citizen and you have to be someone who has "engaged in hostilities or who has purposefully and materially supported hostilities against the United States or its co-belligerents who is not a lawful enemy combatant (including a person who is part of the Taliban, al Qaeda, or associated forces".

    Does this sound like any of you?

    Are you a non-American citizen and have you supported hostilities against the United States? No? Then this doesn't apply to you.

    This is a common technique of expert propaganda. They will actually quote for you the sections they want you to hear, which supports their side of the debate, and they will leave out the rest, relying on your laziness to not check their facts. After all, they quoted stuff! It MUST be true!

    But hey, don't take my word for it. Look it up. Maybe I'm the propaganda machine! You'll just have to fact check and find out. Don't rely on the press to do it. You think the government is corrupt and needs to have their facts checked, but what about the press? Even NPR?

    If you listen to the story, I think you'll find the wording interesting. I believe he mentioned "alien" only once, and that's after his first statement which seems to suggest that anyone can be declared an unlawful combatant, perhaps implying to the casual listener that any American can be locked away for good in Guantanamo. The story goes on for quite a while about a lot of details which do not apply to any of you. You'd think he'd maybe reiterate that point.

    But let's think about what's really going on here and what Guantanamo Bay really is:

    It's basically a prisoner of war camp for unlawful combatants.

    If they were lawful combatants, they would belong to a military that's part of a country that's at war with America, and when the war is over, we send them home.

    Instead, they are "unlawful combatants" -- basically, people who went into Iraq to cause death and destruction without a military and without a national backing.

    We can't hold them "until the war is over" because there's nobody to declare peace with, nobody who can tell us that hostilities are over and it's time to release the prisoners.

    We can't send them home because home nations like Syria and Iran will pat them on the head and send them right back out to kill more people.

    The call for habeas corpus is essentially a call for a trial, but let's think about what that means:

    We caught a Syrian combatant in Iraq. And you want to try him in America?

    That's just wrong on so many levels. The Syrian police do not get to go to Canada to arrest Americans and try them in Syrian courts. We would bomb the hell out of them for that. Yet many people claim that this is precisely what we should do with our prisoners: try them in an American court for crimes committed in Iraq and Afghanistan against those other countries.

    What laws would we even put them on trial for breaking? Iraqi laws? American laws?

    IDEALLY, we would send these prisoners back to Iraq and Afghanistan for trial in the courts of the nation where the deeds were done. We have no right to try them. However, if we simply handed them over now, what odds would you place that:
    1) They can get a fair trial (i.e., they are not simply executed on the spot)
    2) Local security forces can keep them safe (from rescue and from lynching)

    So not only is this propaganda driving the public (e.g., YOU) in a hooting frenzy against the American government, but it's actually trying to force the government to do something that is, frankly, very very wrong.

    Holding "alien unlawful enemy combatants" as prisoners of war in a camp until such time as we can reasonably hand them over to some more proper authorities is the only reasonable option.

    This campaign of misinformation is dangerous.

    It's scaring me a lot more than anything I think the government has done.

    Before you say, "Oh, but the government did this other thing" maybe you should go look it up and make sure you don't fall for another piece of propaganda.

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