June 21, 2006

Living in Wonderland

I expect to have more to say about other parts of Bush's comments at his press conference in Vienna today. For the moment, let's take a look at his remarks about Guantanamo:
I'd like to end Guantanamo. I'd like it to be over with.

One of the things we will do is we will send people back to their home countries. We've got about 400 people there left: 200 have been sent back; 400 are there, mainly from Saudi Arabia, Afghanistan and Yemen.

And I explained to the two leaders here our desire is to send them back. Of course, there's international pressure not to send them back. But hopefully we'll be able to resolve that when they go back to their own country.

There are some who need to be tried in U.S. courts. They're cold-blooded killers. They will murder somebody if they're let out on the street.

And yet we believe there ought to be a way forward in the court of law. And I'm waiting for the Supreme Court of the United States to determine the proper venue in which these people can be tried.
I'm sure you will indulge me if I ask a painfully obvious question: if, according to our president, we already conclusively know that "[t]hey're cold-blooded killers" -- and if we have already sentenced them to the hellhole of Guantanamo -- then why in God's name is there a "need [for them] to be tried in U.S. courts"?

As I suggested last evening, words and morality have been twisted beyond all recognition in the lunatic Bush world in which we now live. Nonetheless, words have specific meanings. And in light of our constitutional guarantees and our fundamental legal procedures (or at least, what had been our legal procedures), the concept of the presumption of innocence also has a specific meaning. The necessarily related rights to counsel and to a speedy trial also once had specific meanings. But all of that has now been discarded. The Guantanamo prisoners are regarded as having been proven guilty, and many of them have already been imprisoned for several years. And many of them are almost certainly innocent.

It is an insult to the principles underlying our form of government and our system of justice, and it is a deeply shameful stain on our nation, that we now have a president who is so ignorant and/or dishonest and/or criminally careless in the way he speaks of matters of such grave significance.

And it is difficult to know whether Mr. Bush is the King or the Queen in Chapter XII from Alice's Adventures in Wonderland:
'What do you know about this business?' the King said to Alice.

'Nothing,' said Alice.

'Nothing whatever?' persisted the King.

'Nothing whatever,' said Alice.

'That's very important,' the King said, turning to the jury. They were just beginning to write this down on their slates, when the White Rabbit interrupted:

'Unimportant, your Majesty means, of course,' he said in a very respectful tone, but frowning and making faces at him as he spoke.

'Unimportant, of course, I meant,' the King hastily said, and went on to himself in an undertone, 'important--unimportant-- unimportant--important--' as if he were trying which word sounded best.


'There's more evidence to come yet, please your Majesty,' said the White Rabbit, jumping up in a great hurry; 'this paper has just been picked up.'

'What's in it?' said the Queen.

'I haven't opened it yet,' said the White Rabbit, 'but it seems to be a letter, written by the prisoner to--to somebody.'

'It must have been that,' said the King, 'unless it was written to nobody, which isn't usual, you know.'

'Who is it directed to?' said one of the jurymen.

'It isn't directed at all,' said the White Rabbit; 'in fact, there's nothing written on the outside.' He unfolded the paper as he spoke, and added 'It isn't a letter, after all: it's a set of verses.'

'Are they in the prisoner's handwriting?' asked another of they jurymen.

'No, they're not,' said the White Rabbit, 'and that's the queerest thing about it.' (The jury all looked puzzled.)

'He must have imitated somebody else's hand,' said the King. (The jury all brightened up again.)

'Please your Majesty,' said the Knave, `I didn't write it, and they can't prove I did: there's no name signed at the end.'

'If you didn't sign it,' said the King, `that only makes the matter worse. You must have meant some mischief, or else you'd have signed your name like an honest man.'

There was a general clapping of hands at this: it was the first really clever thing the King had said that day.

'That proves his guilt,' said the Queen.

'It proves nothing of the sort!' said Alice. 'Why, you don't even know what they're about!'

[The White Rabbit reads the verses aloud, and they unsuccessfully attempt to decipher their meaning.]


'Let the jury consider their verdict,' the King said, for about the twentieth time that day.

'No, no!' said the Queen. 'Sentence first--verdict afterwards.'

'Stuff and nonsense!' said Alice loudly. 'The idea of having the sentence first!'

'Hold your tongue!' said the Queen, turning purple.

'I won't!' said Alice.

'Off with her head!' the Queen shouted at the top of her voice. Nobody moved.
Now we are all in Wonderland -- but the suffering, and the blood, and the death are real.

I think even Lewis Carroll might be stunned into silence.

Related Essays: Understanding the Significance of Guantanamo

Of Fundamental Moral Principles, and the Value of a Single Human Life