Wednesday, February 03, 2010

An open letter to US Representative John Sullivan

This post is only tangentially related to transportation as it touches on the subject of aviation safety. I make my living working for a major airline. Yes, I'm one of those aircraft technicians that USAToday castigated yesterday. Those of us who watched the aftermath of the ValuJet crash know that safety is always paramount. Yet we all know that horror stories sell newspapers. We know that fear is a powerful motivator whether it's being used to drum up support for bike lanes or as a means of pushing national policy.

When people try to manipulate me by using fear, I get angry.

Congressman Sullivan sent out a postcard with the following questions. Each could be answered with yes, no, or unsure. Since graduating from high school, I've found that life doesn't always offers such clear cut answers. More nuance and subtlety is required. So I've taken the liberty of answering the congressman's questions at greater length, and as always, the answers inevitably lead to more questions. Such is life.

Constituent Survey - Tell Me What You Think!

1. Do you think enemy combatants should be tried on US soil?

The Bush administration coined the term 'enemy combatants' as a way to avoid giving prisoners any legal status. Captured enemy soldiers are treated under international law as prisoners of war. Ordinary criminals are afforded legal protection under our constitution. Yet no laws apply to enemy combatants. They are in legal limbo. I do not believe they should be tried in military courts because soldiers, even captured enemy soldiers, are presumed to have served their country honorably. Terrorism cannot be equated with that honorable service. Terrorists are no more than common criminals and should be treated as such.

We pride ourselves on our belief in the rule of law. In fact, it is the very basis democracy. There have been periods when we've turned our backs on the rule of law, to our subsequent shame. Examples include the persecution of those with German surnames during WW1, the internment of Japanese civilians during WW2, and the long struggle for civil rights. Insisting that 'enemy combatants' be tried outside our existing legal system is against our very nature as Americans. We're better than that, Congressman. We've seen that the legal system works in previous terrorism trials, and we will not turn our backs on the rule of law in a misguided attempt at revenge. We truly are better than that, Congressman.

2. Do you think Congress is doing enough to secure our borders?

Which points of entry need to be reinforced? People enter our country illegally through airports and harbors. They can simply walk across from Mexico or Canada. Yet the most contentious issue seems to be all those brown-skinned people crossing from the south. The Bush administration proposed a border wall to keep them out, apparently blind to the irony of Ronald Regan's "tear down this wall" speech, or the uniformly negative reaction to Israel's border wall.

On a purely practical standpoint, how are we to pay for increased border security when our government is already trillions of dollars in debt from putting two wars on a credit card? Would you take the money away from education, highways, or defense? Sorry, Congressman, but it really sounds like empty rhetoric.

We know that most illegal immigrants come here seeking work. They're trying to escape poverty, yet rather than treat poverty as the root cause of illegal immigration, we try to prevent their movement northward, locking them in as a permanent underclass. Attack poverty in central and south America, Congressman, and you'll do much to stem illegal immigration.

If you insist on taking punitive measures, I suggest you go after those who knowingly employ undocumented workers, including those employers who turn a blind eye to the actions of so-called independent contractors.

3. Do you believe the Administration is doing enough to ensure the safety of American travelers?

Put another way, Congressman, do you believe our Administration would deliberately ignore the safety of Americans? Does the Obama administration take that lightly, or is this question merely an attempt to portray Democrats as somehow not as committed to the security of the traveling public as the Republicans are? Frankly, congressman, the question is more than a little offensive since it implies that the executive branch and our commander in chief are unwilling or unable to ensure the safety of the American people. There's a phrase in the oath of office about defending our country from all enemies both foreign and domestic. Perhaps you should review that and consider whether the oath is a statement of personal morality and integrity, or merely empty words.

4. Do you support the Administration's efforts to close our detention facility located in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba?

The American people should demand the closure of the detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay. Imprisoning people without charges for years on end is the very antithesis of our beliefs. We claim to be a people who believe in fairness and justice, yet the existence of that prison shows our claim is a lie. As for the prisoners there, you say, "I have concerns that a public trial...could risk disclosure of classified information, potentially damaging our national security or foreign relations." Congressman, by imprisoning people without trial or legal recourse, we do actual - not potential - damage to our national security and foreign relations. How would you react if a similar number of Americans were imprisoned under such conditions?

Abraham Lincoln said that you can fool some of the people all the time, but Congressman, that number is dwindling, even in Oklahoma. We sent you to Washington to represent the people of Oklahoma - all the people of Oklahoma - not only the Republicans. It's past time you started doing what is right, Congressman, not merely what will help you keep your job. It's only temporary, after all. Our country needs statesmen, not partisans.

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Blogger Bob said...

i've been lurking on your posts for a few months now, but I haven't introduced myself or commented before today.

To this post I must comment: hear, hear!

I have a similar survey from my Republican representative. I think I'll color outside the lines in my responses as you have done.

4:35 PM  
Blogger Steve A said...

#1. Now who's being antidemocratic? The British tried exactly the approach you propose - treat the trrorists as common criminals. That approach after Easter 1916 led directly to an unprecedented swelling of support for the terrorists and the subsequent eviction of the British. Ireland.

If IS a "war" on terror, the terrorists are defacto prisoners of that war even if there isn't a state sponsor on the other side. Which raises more treatment questions, but I don't want to hear my USG talking about executing someone prior to even an indictment.

6:27 PM  
Blogger Ed W said...

Thanks for commenting on this, guys. Feel free to do so at length if you like.

It took me a little while to figure out what 'USG' meant. It's been a long day and I'm tired.

7:50 PM  

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