Saturday, January 30, 2010

Sheik Khalid Mohammed, Rights, and the Terrorist Aftershock

Culturism does not hold that rights are – with apologies to the great Thomas Jefferson - inalienable or God-given. They do not hang in the sky enshrined by metaphysical truths as “human rights” advocated contend. Rights come from cultures that believe in them and can afford them. Enshrining rights in mystical ether and ignoring their real-world basis and costs endangers our nation.

Today the White House abandoned their plan to have Sheik Khalid Mohammed, the admitted 9-11 mastermind, tried in lower Manhattan. The decision was done on the basis of considerations that show rights are not metaphysical abstractions. Trying Mohammed requires creating a security perimeter. This would have meant locals would have had to have shown identification to get to their homes, traffic would have been terrible, and businesses would have been virtually inaccessible. Rights happen in real times and places.

Mohammed’s right to be tried in Manhattan would have come at the cost of others’ right to stay in business. The trial will cost, according to New York City Police Commissioner Raymond Kelley, around $200 million a year and last for several years. The Federal government may reimburse for some of the costs. But whoever supplies the dimes, we can see in times of financial stress and hiring freezes, Mohammed’s rights happen at the expense of others’ rights to get fire service, police protection, or teachers. There is no such thing as a free lunch. Rights cost money.

Rights happen in a spectrum that, in our history, could be said to run from lynching to Sheik Khalid Mohammed. Lynching could not have been called a form of justice when the wrong person was caught. But, for arguments sake, on that occasion when the person lynched was guilty, the justice was swift. Such deterrent and retribution required zero lawyers, delay, or cost. In the middle of our spectrum of justice, we have cases where guilt is in doubt and we have a trial. And, at the other extreme, we have a clearly guilty man getting hundreds of millions of dollars worth of protections. The extremes are clearly problematic.

During times of war, even America has had a culturist, rather than an absolute metaphysical, vision of rights. We did not, for example, both have the resources to give every person of Japanese descent a trial before relocation and fight World War Two. Nations have long interned enemy combatants, or potential enemy combatants, en masse for just such reasons. We knew that had we lost World War II, no one would have rights. We understood that rights do not exist in a vacuum; they cost money, take time, and require a culture that believes in them for them to be in existence.

It is unprecedented that we now, in debt and at war, spend hundreds of millions to protect a man clearly guilty of killing thousands of Americans. Obama believed that the cost was worth the international propaganda value of the trial. This change of location shows that he only secondarily realized the disruption caused by the trial will have a domestic political costs. It will also have the domestic impact of disrupting businesses and costing us each lots of money. In a time of War this chaos and economic bleeding could be considered a second terrorist hit. Until we realize that rights cost money and require a sustainable functioning society to buy them, we are vulnerable to such aftershock terrorism.
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