Fury said to a mouse
That he met in a house,
“Let us both go to law;
I will prosecute you.—
Come, I’ll take no denial;
We must have a trial’
For really this morning I’ve nothing to do.”
Said the mouse to the cur,
“Such a trial, dear Sir,
With no jury or judge
Would be wasting our breath.”
“I’ll be judge, I’ll be jury,”
Said cunning old Fury;
“I’ll try the whole cause
And condemn you to death.”
Lewis Carroll’s cur is apparently now the model for the American judicial system. On October 18, George Bush signed into law the Military Commissions Act. The act allows the president to decide what is torture and when to use it. It allows him to decide who is an illegal enemy combatant, whether that person is a U.S. citizen or not. If someone is so designated, they can be held without charge, without trial, without recourse. The law overrides the principle of Habeas Corpus which dates back to the Magna Carta. The allows the CIA to continue to send prisoners to secret prisons abroad.
I know this is a blog of crime writers, writing about crime fiction, but I don’t know a more sickening crime than for Americans in the highest positions of power to commit torture and to claim that it is their moral and legal right to do so.
I’ve recently returned from a publicity tour of Scandinavia, where my recent novel Fire Sale was published in translation. While I was there, 40,000 Hungarians—out of a population of 10 million—stood outside their president’s house in silent protest because he had lied about the economy to get elected. In almost every press interview I gave, journalists didn’t have any questions about my work, my deathless prose or my characters, or about me. They wanted to know why Americans weren’t in the streets, or some place, protesting what has been done in our names. They weren’t asking in an aggressive, or censorious way; they were asking out of anguish, because we are so powerful, and what we do affects the whole world.
I didn’t have an easy, or very good answer. I told them that many Americans are protesting, but there isn't an institution, either in media or government, that carries enough weight and enough visibility for the protests to be heard, and for them to make a difference.
How many people objected when the president and his attorney general and secretary of defense decided to contravene the Geneva Convention? How many people protested our abandoning the millennium-old writ of Habeas Corpus, or abandoning the 4th Amendment protection against unreasonable search and seizure of our homes and persons? How many people protested going to war, before Iraq became the debacle that it is?
The answer is that many did so, but consolidation of TV, radio and newspapers into a few conglomerates, controlled by people who are uninterested in anything except further aggrandizing their already vast fortunes, has meant that our protests are like the proverbial tree falling in the forest. These media giants have a vested stake in the government, which has given them many favors, in terms of bandwidths and frequencies, as well as bending anti-trust laws to allow both vertical and horizontal integeration; they don't often show serious protests in depth. (100,000 people were in Washington to protest Bush's first inauguration, but not even the New York Times reported this. I learned about it from an indie journalist who was there.)
I came home to find that the Chicago Tribune Corporation has just fired the publisher of the LA Times because he refused to fire more reporters. Today, NBC announced draconian cuts to its news staff. Basically, media companies have cut their reporting staffs in half, across the country, because that boosts their corporate share prices. The net result is an inability to do in-depth reporting, which means that our population gets less and less information, but more and more entertainment pretending to be news. And an uninformed, under-educated population cannot support a democracy—the ill-informed become easy prey for demagogues.
What should we be doing, we readers and writers, at such a time? If you have a suggestion, I very much need to hear it.