John McCain, the elderly senator from Arizona who also happens to be the GOP presidential candidate, weighed in on the recent Supreme Court decision that granted prisoners incarcerated in one of the most notorious prisons on the planet, Guantanamo, the right to seek redress in civilian courts. Said Mr. McCain: the decision is “one of the worst decisions in the history of this country.”
Mr. McCain is apparently either relying on the notion that U.S. voters know little about the history of the Supreme Court, or he is simply stating his clear beliefs. If one looks back to 1857 and a certain Supreme Court decision from ‘the history of this country,’ one learns that the court decreed “that all blacks — slaves as well as free — were not and could never become citizens of the United States.” Additionally, the court also nullified the 1820 Missouri Compromise, declaring it unconstitutional, thus legalizing slavery throughout the nation. This infamous ruling is known as the Dred Scott decision.
Does Mr. McCain really believe that granting political prisoners some basic rights is more horrifying than decreeing that an entire segment of the population is somehow less than human? Perhaps he does. It must be remembered that after the assassination of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., legislation was proposed to make his birthday a national holiday. Arizona was one of the last states to enact such legislation, and opposition to that legislation was led by a member of the House of Representatives, one John McCain. Today, of course, he presents a laundry list of excuses of why he did so then. One he doesn’t mention is the fact that the African-American vote had no value for him at that time. Things are different now, of course.
Regarding the Guantanamo decision, Mr. McCain continued: “These are people who are not citizens. They do not and never have been given the rights that citizens in this country have. Now, my friends, there are some bad people down there. There are some bad people.”
We will overlook for the moment Mr. McCain’s annoying habit of addressing his audience as ‘my friends,’ and focus instead on his assertion that ‘there are some bad people down there.’ How he justifies appointing himself as judge and jury he does not care to explain. How he sees fairness in dumping prisoners as young as fifteen into the hell hole of Guantanamo he also does not bother to discuss. He has decreed that these unfortunate victims belong in the U.S.’s Cuba-based torture chamber.
Even the U.S. military defense lawyer for one of them, 21-year-old Omar Khadr, who has been in Guantanamo for six years, says that his client cannot get a fair trial there; he wants him sent back to Canada, not an unusual request since Mr. Khadr is a Canadian citizen. But no, Mr. McCain would prefer that the Supreme Court not interfere with his personal appraisal of ‘bad people’ and what they deserve.
Democratic presidential candidate, Illinois Senator Barack Obama, had a more measured response. He said that this decision “…ensures that we can protect our nation and bring terrorists to justice while also protecting our core values.” He further said this: “The Court’s decision is a rejection of the Bush administration’s attempt to create a legal black hole at Guantanamo. This is an important step toward re-establishing our credibility as a nation committed to the rule of law and rejecting a false choice between fighting terrorism and respecting habeas corpus.” It appears that Mr. Obama takes a more thoughtful view of the decision, whereas Mr. McCain seems content to cater to the worst notions of some U.S. citizens: the Muslims are out to get us!
And Mr. McCain considers this ruling to be worse than declaring that African-Americans can never be citizens. But that must not be surprising from one of Congress’s leading opponents of a bill honoring Dr. King. In a recent attempt to explain away his opposition to that legislation, Mr. McCain said this: “We can be slow… to give greatness its due.”
One may wonder why the Supreme Court was ever put into a position of determining if the U.S.’s political prisoners should have basic human rights; such a thing should be a given, not something only allowed following a Supreme Court decision. But within the context of a nation that has slid dangerously close to fascism in just seven short years (not that it was so far away prior to the Supreme Court’s appointment of George Bush to the presidency; if Mr. McCain wants to talk about terrible Supreme Court decisions, he might start there), the recent court decision might be categorized as ‘great.’ And once again, Mr. McCain, not one to learn from the past, is ‘slow to give greatness its due.’
And yet, while Mr. McCain acknowledges his inability to ‘give greatness its due,’ he seems to see it where few others do. He proudly endorses Mr. Bush’s disastrous wars, and states that he will continue them up to some undefined victory. He seeks to make permanent Mr. Bush’s tax cuts which clearly benefit the wealthy and do nothing for the poor and middle class. He sees great progress in Iraq as he tours Baghdad with enough security to protect Fort Knox. He appears to possess the same disdain for facts and reality that his hero, Mr. Bush, has demonstrated throughout his presidency.
This is the man who would be president; at a time when much of the United States and most of the world longs for someone to lead the U.S. out of the political and moral morass into which Mr. Bush dragged it, Mr. McCain sees value in shoving the country deeper into it. As millions of Americans desperately seek employment and do all that they can to keep from facing foreclosure; when health care is outside the reach of 47,000,000 citizens while the health care companies rake in unprecedented profits; as U.S. soldiers die to enrich the executives of huge oil conglomerates, Mr. McCain sees little reason for change. He, of course, need not worry about foreclosure: his wife is an heiress. As a member of Congress he has government-provided health care, and as a former soldier he sees great value in sending young Americans to war zones to adhere to the cardinal rule of the U.S. military: follow orders.
Polls that indicate a close race for the presidency should be humiliating to any thinking U.S. citizen. That any but the most rabid conservatives, ensconced in their mansions and surrounded by their guns and their servants, can consider voting for Mr. McCain is astounding. There are some, of course, who cannot tolerate the thought of an African-American in the White House (mightn’t he rename it the Black House?), and will vote for whomever the Republicans nominate, regardless of how reactionary, out of touch and incompetent he may be. These are the people who the Republicans have successfully convinced to vote against their own best interests in the past; they may replicate that success.
If they do, the consequences will certainly fit the crime; the tragedy is the suffering of so many who had no hand in it, but will experience those consequences anyway.
ROBERT FANTINA is author of ‘Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776–2006.