What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
photo credit: taylorsloan
This morning, the world was witness to an advance by Libyan rebel forces into Tripoli, concentrating their pressure on the dictator Muammar Gaddafi and his sons. Libyans and freedom-loving people the world over are rejoicing at the increasing chance of success the people of that nation will soon have to completely throw off their shackles and institute a form of government in which they all can have a say.
As noble and worthy as that goal is, and as cruel and merciless as Gaddafi is, this should not be happening. Yes, Gaddafi is a tyrant and should be removed from power. But it is only happening now because of the United States government and NATO, an institution funded and supplied largely by our own government. Thus, our unconstitutional and immoral intervention into a foreign country—justified on a shaky foundation of half-truths and emotional platitudes—is the catalyst for the current Libyan revolution. Without the air support and logistical assistance of the United States military, today’s circumstances would not be where they are. And that support cannot legitimately be given unless specific requirements are met, which are currently being openly flouted by the Obama administration.
This is not an uncommon situation. The government frequently employs immoral means in pursuit of allegedly moral objectives. Saving or creating jobs, sheltering the homeless, providing medical care to those in need, etc.—these and so many more policies are justified through pointing to a noble goal, though are carried out through immoral activities such as theft, coercion, and violation of the Constitution. The immorality is justified, dismissed, or even altogether ignored by the media and public at large through an emotion-driven public relations campaign in which those who dare oppose the activity in question are automatically branded as unsympathetic, unrealistic, or just plain selfish.
Immorality in pursuit of morality is especially notable in certain criminal cases, where people readily support whatever it takes (“all options are on the table”) to capture and convict somebody. The Libyan civil war in which we’ve become involved is no exception. Another recent example is the Warren Jeffs case, which likewise should not have happened as it did. Yes, Jeffs is a dirty scumbag who deserves the sentence he was given and has ruthlessly damaged or destroyed a number of lives. But nearly all of the lurid evidence used against him in court over the past few months was obtained through an illegitimate search and seizure of dubious legality of the Yearning for Zion FLDS property in Texas.
In that 2008 raid, Texas law enforcement officers were granted a warrant which authorized them to search “all buildings, temples, temple annexes, places of worship, vaults, safes, lockboxes, locked drawers, medical facilities, structures, places and vehicles at the ranch.” Their only tip was a prank phone call.
This directly violates the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution which states that warrants may only be issued “upon probable cause” and when they “particularly describ[e] the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.”
On both points this warrant fails. Law enforcement officers had no probable cause—just a fake, unsubstantiated tip that in no way justifies what followed. And the warrant that was issued, authorizing the invasion of a community’s property (and temple!), had no mention of a particular place, person, or thing. It was extremely broad and unjustly targeted completely innocent people who found themselves subjected to the thuggery of the police state’s muscular arm. Remember also that in this raid officers rounded up every child, effectively kidnapping them under the cloak of law to interview them without their parents present, with no cell phones allowed, with no media able to talk to them. They were detained without a proper warrant, kept in protective custody, and often farmed out to shelters and foster homes, with Child Protective Services agents in many cases having to physically separate mothers from their crying children.
Rarely in recent history has such a brazen manifestation been made of deviating the law to enforce justice. And yet, just a week ago Jeffs was convicted and sentenced—a result welcomed by anybody with a brain—based on evidence obtained in that unconstitutional search and seizure. As that evidence should not have been collected as it was, it therefore follows that Jeffs’ conviction and sentencing should not have happened as it did.
To state that these (and other) events should not have occurred as they did (and thus, perhaps not at all, letting evil men go free) is to assume an awkward position against an overwhelming majority which would strongly and emotionally disagree. “We want to put bad people in jail!” “Thugs and perverts such as these deserve to rot in prison!” “We must do whatever it takes to protect the innocent!” These and similar arguments are all too common, often encountered in discussion anytime one suggests that the way in which this supposed justice was pursued was perhaps wrong.
We would be able to capture and convict far more criminals through a full-fledged police state, of course. For those who are indifferent to the alleged protections offered to the innocent as the government enforces the law, this becomes a difficult proposition. If they support the current violations of law and morality to achieve the goals they applaud, then where, if at all, do they draw the line? What about an open-search-and-seizure policy with curfews, martial law, and 24/7 surveillance? Crime would be far easier to solve and punish were law enforcement officials able to do whatever they thought best to detain and punish the evil individuals among us.
The presumption of innocence and safeguards to restrain an unchecked police state exist for a reason; deviance from these protections may yield positive results, as with Gaddafi, Jeffs, and others, but each occasion sets precedent and policy for future occasions wherein the police state expands in size and scope. We should temper our joy at seeing justice served with the somber realization that these moral ends were brought about in that way only through employing immoral means.
In a world where individuals tolerate the government committing crimes in pursuit of others who have allegedly committed a crime, morality is considered an antiquated inconvenience rarely thought of, let alone heeded. Those who solemnly pledge their allegiance to “liberty and justice for all” would do well to reject this pattern and follow through on that commitment—promoting liberty and pursuing justice only through moral means.