Parsed Principles a Peril

Ever notice the number of people who seemingly can’t concede that the real world can’t be lived in the abstract? Take (the case of) Abdullah al-Mujahir. Please.

Civil libertarians are up in metaphorical arms over the erstwhile Jose Padilla’s treatment: being held in a brig, formally uncharged, as an “unlawful combatant.” This ex street-gang punk from Chicago, however, is hardly the poster lad for victims of fashionable fascism.

The protest typically takes the form of: “If they (the grandstanding, goose-stepping, jack-booted John Ashcroft, et al) can do this to one fellow citizen, they can do it to you too.”

Well, yes. In fact, any other radically Islamic American who had moved to Pakistan via unknown patrons and met more than once with key al-Qaeda operative Abu Zubaydah to allegedly pitch ideas about nuclear weapons should receive identical treatment. To do less would be more than inadvisable; it would be a dereliction of duty.

Is this treatment — suspension of habeas corpus and no ESPN — such a civil libertarian nightmare in a country under attack from those pursuing America’s demise? We are, lest we forget, in the throes of a non-traditional war where preemption of terrorist plans is the first line of defense.

Because al-Jose is an American citizen, say the chattering class of libertarians, he deserves off-the-shelf, constitutionally protected treatment. That he does, of course, if you discount whom he’s met up with and where — and that America is under siege by those who make up the rules as they go along. In legally uncharted waters, the Bush Administration is citing the case of the World War II German saboteurs, including an American citizen, who were tried as unlawful combatants before a military tribunal. That’s as problematic as it is prudent. As it is necessary. Keep in mind, the ultimate civil right is the right to continue to live.

One other point. When we parse principles — however hallowed — beyond reason, we do so at our own peril. Exhibit A: America’s defense against terrorism. Exhibit B: “one nation, under God.”

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