The Weekly Standard's ACLU smear indicts only itself

Neoconservative contempt for the Constitution is not only un-American; it is al-Qaida's greatest ally

Published November 18, 2009 8:19AM (EST)

Even for The Weekly Standard, this bitter, juvenile McCarthyite attack on the ACLU by Thomas Joscelyn sputters with so much fact-free, impotent, and self-defeating rage that it's hard to believe it was printed.  Right in the headline, it oh-so-cleverly smears the ACLU as "Al Qaeda's Civil Liberties Union"; it ends by proclaiming the group to be "al Qaeda's useful idiots"; and it's filled in the middle with all sorts of trite innuendo circa 2002 that anyone who believes in the Constitution -- i.e., radical "far leftist" doctrines such as "trials" and "due process" -- secretly harbors love for the Terrorists and hatred for America ("The ACLU has worked diligently to undermine America's stance in what was formerly known as the 'war on terror,' and has even been willing to disseminate propaganda on behalf of our jihadist enemies").  What the article actually -- and ironically -- reveals is how much contempt The Weekly Standard and much of America's Right has for the nation's core political values and how, in the process, they do more to aid Islamic extremists than even those who directly fund and advocate for them.

The primary piece of incriminating evidence Joscelyn waves around in his little briefcase is this ACLU-produced video featuring five Muslim men who were held at Guantanamo without charges for years and then released.  In the video, they recount the torture and abuse to which they were subjected, as well as the impact which prolonged, due-process-free imprisonment by the U.S. has had -- and continues to have -- on their shattered lives.

Joscelyn insists that -- even though they've never been charged with, let alone convicted of, anything -- these men are guilty, evil Terrorists.  To make his case against them, he relies on Bush-era documents containing unproven, untested, and uncharged allegations.  But what he dishonestly -- though understandably -- fails to note is that each of these individuals are available to appear in the ACLU video because they were released from Guantanamo by the Bush administration [Moazzam Begg (released 2005); Omar Deghayes (released 2007); Bisher al-Rawi (released 2007); Ruhal Ahmed (released 2004); Shafiq Rasul (released 2004)].  If, as Joscelyn claims, the ACLU are Al Qaeda's "useful idiots" for producing a video containing interviews with these individuals, what are Bush officials who released them onto the streets?  He also fails to note that time and again, government allegations against Guantanamo detainees -- the source on which he principally relies -- have failed to withstand even the most minimal judicial scrutiny to which the 2008 Supreme Court ruled detainees are constitutionally entitled.  The Government has now lost roughly 28 out of 33 habeas corpus hearings brought by detainees since the Supreme Court's ruling, often before some of the most right-wing, executive-branch-deferring judges in the country, who have found there is no credible evidence to support the government's accusations.

So lame and desperate are Joscelyn's smears that his attack ends up indicting himself, his magazine and his political movement far more than his intended target.  Here are the profoundly un-American "principles" he implicitly -- and at times explicitly -- embraces:

1.  If the Government asserts accusations against Muslims, those accusations shall be deemed true, even if they're made in secret and without being tested by any court.

2.  Even if the Government voluntarily releases Muslim detainees from captivity without charges, they should still be assumed to be guilty, dangerous and evil Terrorists.

3.  Muslim detainees have no right to counsel, no right to be charged with a crime, no due process rights to contest the accusations against them, and no right to be free of torture.

4.  Anyone who works to provide basic due process and legal representation to Muslim detainees, or who publicizes their wrongful detentions and abusive treatment, shall themselves be deemed suspect of harboring allegiances to Al Qaeda.

To see how alien this is to any political values historically understood as "American," compare The Weekly Standard's neoconservative manifesto to what Thomas Paine thought about such matters, as expressed in the final paragraph of his 1790 Dissertations on First Principles of Government:

An avidity to punish is always dangerous to liberty. It leads men to stretch, to misinterpret, and to misapply even the best of laws. He that would make his own liberty secure must guard even his enemy from oppression; for if he violates this duty he establishes a precedent that will reach to himself.

Or compare the neocon mentality to Thomas Jefferson's warning, in a 1789 letter to Paine, that trial by jury -- which the ACLU safeguards and most of America's Right despises -- is "the only anchor ever yet imagined by man, by which a government can be held to the principles of its constitution."  

Between (a) an organization that works tirelessly for basic due process and Constitutional liberties for everyone and (b) a political movement which demands their rejection, does it really take any effort to see which side is vigorously defending core American principles and which side is waging war on them?  And given how due-process-free imprisonment is one of the most potent recruiting tools for Islamic extremists (as reported by David Rohde, Johann Hari, Gen. McChyrstal, and even the Pentagon's own 2004 Task Force) -- to say nothing of the endless aggressive wars cheered on by The Weekly Standard's play-acting warriors -- does it take any effort to see who Al Qaeda's "useful idiots" and stalwart allies truly are?

As Hari recently documented after interviews with ex-Muslim militants, the most effective weapon against Al Qaeda's recruitment efforts is when human rights groups in the West -- such as the ACLU -- demand equal, humane and Constitutional treatment of Muslims:

When they saw ordinary Westerners trying to uphold human rights, their jihadism began to stutter. Almost all of them said that they doubted their Islamism when they saw a million non-Muslims march in London to oppose the Iraq War: "How could we demonise people who obviously opposed aggression against Muslims?" asks Hadiya. . . . [Another explained]:  "So, when Amnesty, despite knowing that we hated them, adopted us, I felt -- maybe these democratic values aren't always hypocritical. Maybe some people take them seriously . . .  it was the beginning of my serious doubts."

By stark contrast, the policies cheered on by Joscelyn's right-wing comrades have done more to fuel and enable Al Qaeda than any other single factor:

Every one of them said the Bush administration's response to 9/11 -- from Guantanamo to Iraq -- made jihadism seem more like an accurate description of the world. . . . [One ex-militant] started to recruit other students, as he had done so many times before. But it was harder. "Everyone hated the [unelected] government [of Hosni Mubarak], and the US for backing it," he says.  But there was an inhibiting sympathy for the victims of 9/11 -- until the Bush administration began to respond with Guantanamo Bay and bombs. "That made it much easier. After that, I could persuade people a lot faster."

The ACLU (with which I consult) not only defends the most elemental American liberties (e.g., the State cannot imprison people without charging and convicting them of a crime), but also renders Al Qaeda's demonization-dependent recruitment efforts against the West far less effective.  By stark contast, the Constitution-hating, warmongering and tyrannical template embraced by The Weekly Standard is precisely what Al Qaeda needs -- and desires --  in order to thrive.  The more the U.S. is represented by the warmongering and anti-due process face of Bill Kristol, the better it is for Al Qaeda; the more it adheres to the liberties and rights guaranteed by the Constitution and defended by the ACLU, the weaker Al Qaeda becomes.  Kristolian neocons want and need a strong Al Qaeda in order to justify the array of wars and civil liberties erosions they crave, and everything they advocate is designed to achieve that goal -- or, at the very least, guarantees that outcome.  

The greatest irony of the last decade is that the very people who most despise core American principles and do more than anyone to fuel Islamic extremism have anointed themselves the arbiters of American patriotism and protectors of American security.  The reality is that it is this very movement which simultaneously advances definitively un-American political values and strengthens anti-American Islamic radicals -- both by design and by effect.  The Weekly Standard's due-process-hating manifesto this morning is a vivid exhibit for how that has worked.

By Glenn Greenwald

Follow Glenn Greenwald on Twitter: @ggreenwald.

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