I had originally planned to write about the upcoming health care vote, but something else decided to sneak up on me from behind. (Suffice to say that "compromise" means that no one's going to be happy.)
A few months ago, I read about the case of Peter Watts, a Canadian science fiction writer who had been stopped at the US/Canadian border, leaving the US after a business trip. It was there that he was beaten and arrested by US border guards, charged with assaulting a federal officer.
At the time, I felt only irritation at the arrogance of the US border guards. Like other occupations involving a badge, it attracts a certain type of individual. In my naiveté, I thought that the charges would be dropped, or drastically lessened, and apologies made to Mr. Watts, and Canadians in general.
It didn't work out that way. Peter Watts was convicted of obstruction for getting out of his car at a US Border crossing and asking what was going on, then not complying fast enough when he was told to get back in the car. He faces up to two years in jail. His lawyer did an excellent job, catching numerous falsehoods in the guards' testimony, and finally getting them to admit that Mr. Watts assaulted no one. But this is America, and as recent events have shown us, truth doesn't really matter all that much here. He was convicted because the law is written in such a way (as most are, now) as to make any action on your part a felony. As Mr. Watts explains:
The press has frequently characterized the charge against me as “assaulting a federal officer”. The alleged (and discredited) “choking” episode has been repeated ad nauseum. Here at the Sarnia Best Western I don’t have the actual statute in front of me but it includes a lengthy grab-bag of actions, things like “assault”, “resist”, “impede”, “threaten”, “obstruct” — hell, “contradict” might be in there for all I know. And under “obstruct” is “failure to comply with a lawful order”, and it’s explicitly stated that violence on the part of the perp is not necessary for a conviction. Basically, everything from asking “Why?” right up to chain-saw attack falls under the same charge. And it’s all a felony.As Cory Doctorow at Boing Boing noted:
That's apparently the statute: if you don't comply fast enough with a customs officer, he can beat you, gas you, jail you and then imprison you for two years.
This isn't about safety, it isn't about security, it isn't about the rule of law.
It's about obedience.
Authoritarianism is a disease of the mind. It criminalizes the act of asking "why?" It is the obedience-sickness that turns good people into perpetrators and victims of atrocities great and small.Mr. Doctrorow is right. It is a disease. This incident is but one relatively small symptom. In the weeks, months and even years after 9/11, we did some incredibly stupid things. One of which is to give anyone with a badge carte blanche to do whatever they will, with whomever they will. We did these things out of fear and rage. I suppose we can be forgiven that to a degree.
But, at some point, reason should return.
There are those, both here and abroad, that have a vested interest in keeping us afraid.
As a nation, we have consistently failed to live up to ideals we set for ourselves in the beginning. And if, in the end, we lose that nation and our liberty, it will be no more than we deserve.