It's become somewhat difficult to discuss the Bush presidency. So many Bush policies have been wrongheadedly conceived, immoral, or simply disastrous in their effects that a lot of liberals tend to lapse into incoherent shrieking when the subject comes up. To try to organize my own thoughts, I thought I'd try to make an item by item list here over the next several days.
Any list like this has to start with our policy towards the military detainees. This is such a huge cluster of bad policies that it's hard to know where to begin:
(1) The US ought not use torture. It's barbaric, ineffective, and immediately demolishes any attempt to press other countries to stop abusing human rights. Frankly, I find it depressing and humiliating that this point even needs to be argued. Civilized countries ought not use torture! That's what makes them civilized countries!
Frankly, the decision to torture the detainees is so outrageous that it's impossible to come up with a reasonable argument for it.
(2) The US ought not detain people except as POWs, or as criminal defendants. Anyone using the phrase "illegal combatant" to claim that the government can hold people without charge or Geneva convention rights is playing legal Calvinball. Anyone who defends the practice and simultaneously claims to be for the "rule of law" is a liar or a fool.
(3) The privilege of the writ of habeas corpus shall not be suspended, unless when in cases of rebellion or invasion the public safety may require it.
--US Constitution, Article I, Section 9.
We have not been invaded. There is no rebellion. There is no cause to suspend the writ. "It has only been suspended for really bad people" is no defense--for one thing, without the writ of habeas corpus, how do you know that is true?
(4) Extraordinary rendition, obviously, is itself beyond the pale. See (1).
Why do these policies get any support at all from citizens of a previously-civilized, first-world nation? I can only guess. From the defenses I've seen attempted, it appears to stem from basic cowardice. "As long as I be kept safe," the argument seems to go, "what matter if a few really bad people suffer at the hands of the government?"
How do we know that these people are as bad as claimed? Because, say our government-distrusting conservatives, the government never makes mistakes about such things.