August 21, 2013 § 2 Comments
I’ve been thinking about the use and misuse of words.
According to press reports I’ve read, there is a federal law that appropriates foreign aid for Egypt. There is another federal law that prohibits granting foreign aid to a government that results from a coup. A few weeks ago, the Egyptian army ousted the democratically elected government of Egypt, placed the democratically elected President in jail and assumed authority for governing the country. Most reports of this event acknowledged the obvious: This was a military coup.
President Obama declined to label it a coup. Although he canceled joint war games to begin next month, he did not cancel scheduled grants of foreign aid to Egypt.
Then the Egyptian army slaughtered people during a public demonstration. In response, President Obama announced that he was considering suspending foreigh aid to Egypt.
So, to recap the bidding: First, in obvious violation of the anti-coup law, Obama claimed it was not a coup. Second, after having chosen to ignore the fact that it was a coup, still contending it was not a coup, he is considering suspending foreign aid to Egypt, raising the obvious question: “By what authority could you withhold foreign aid to Egypt if there was no coup?”
I know this is an inconsequential observation. Nobody apparently cares whether the President pays attention either to federal laws or the English language. I just think it is interesting and, to me, somewhat disturbing, because redefining words can have serious consequences. Remember the John Yoo memo that redefined “torture”? That had serious consequences: hundreds, perhaps thousands of people were tortured and those responsible were not held legally responsible for their crimes. Also, our government is based on a written contract, the Constitution. Its words are all that stand between us and government based on fear and military might.
The second reason for these musings is the present trial of Doctor Hassan, the Ft. Hood psychiatrist who gunned down several of his fellow soldiers as well as one civilian who tried to stop the slaughter. Email exchanges between him and Anwar al-Awlaki, a Muslim preacher in Yemen, show that Hassan accepted the Bush and Obama administrations’ designation of the conflict that followed the bombing of September 11,2001, as a “Global War on Terror”. He reasoned that the “war” was being waged against Islam and that, as a Muslim, he had conflicting loyalties: He was in the US Army and, hence, owed allegiance to the United States but, because the “war” broke out during his period of service, he was like a soldier from South Carolina serving when the Civil War broke out. After thinking about the matter for some time, he concluded that his religion required that he take action against the enemy soldiers with whom he was serving. So, he shot them.
During his trial, he chose to represent himself and has made no semblance of a defense. This, from his point of view, seems logical. He is in an enemy court, presided over by enemy soldiers. What sense would it make for him to argue with them? I assume that he expects to be executed and probably understood that before he fired the first shot.
If I were representing him I would argue that he is a victim of the US government’s decision to treat the 2001 bombing as an act of war instead of a crime. We are the ones who began the GWOT, not the criminals who flew airplanes into the NY buildings and the Pentagon. Because we decided to call it a war, the enemy forces are entitled to treat it as a war. In a war, enemy soldiers are fair game wherever they can be found. In WWII, we bombed troop trains and sank naval vessels carrying enemy troops where ever we could find them. War gave us the right to kill enemy soldiers on the battlefield and off the battlefield. So, when Hassan killed soldiers in Ft. Hood, it was an act of war, not a crime. He should be put in a prison camp pending the end of hostilities, just like the Guantanamo prisoners.
Now, before you conclude that I’ve lost my remaining marbles, I hasten to assure you that I will shed no tears when they hang Hassan. I think he is a murderer. I also think, however, that there is no “Global War on Terror”; that the whole concept is a willful misuse of the English language that has caused, and continues to cause needless and lawless killing.
I remember well the law school class in criminal law presided over by Professor Stumberg, one of the best teachers I ever knew. He taught with hypothets and merciless questioning of students. One morning, he posed a hypothet: “Suppose a long-time professor of English History here at UT became delusional and convinced that he was Napoleon. One morning, as he strolled toward the Tower, he encountered another professor whom he identified as the Duke of Wellington; drew a pistol and shot him. Would it be murder or self defense? ” [Before you leap toward "not guilty by reason of insanity", consider whether, even granting the delusional reasoning, it justified the homicide. Like a lot of Stumberg's hypothets,this one had wheels inside of wheels.]
That would be the basis of my argument in defense of Hassan. I don’t think it would work, but if I had to defend him, I would try to pin the killing on Bush instead of him.