Wednesday, September 14, 2005

Soft-pedaling the internment

It's not surprising, really, that Michelle Malkin's fraudulent thesis defending the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II has found been circulating among the extremist right. After all, that's how right-wing transmitters work: she treads rather easily among the extremist ideologues of the far right despite maintaining a mainstream pose.

Likewise, it's not a big surprise to see her thesis spreading to more ostensibly "mainstream" right mouthpieces. The latest instance is Tony Blankley's excerpt from his new book, The West's Last Chance: Will We Win the Clash of Civilizations?, citing a pro-internment argument straight out of Malkin's text -- not to mention Lt. Gen DeWitt's:
A total of 25,655 noncitizens living in the United States were interned or deported during the war years because of their ethnicity or nationality, rather than their words or conduct. They included 11,229 Japanese, 10,905 Germans, 3,278 Italians, 52 Hungarians, 25 Romanians, five Bulgarians and 161 other foreign nationals.

The Supreme Court later held, in Johnson v. Eisentrager (1950), that "executive power over enemy aliens, undelayed and unhampered by litigation, has been deemed, throughout our history, essential to wartime security." The high court added: "The resident enemy alien is constitutionally subject to summary arrest, internment and deportation whenever a 'declared war' exists." So the power to intern or deport comes into effect only when war has been declared.

Today, we are under attack not by a nation, but by groups of militant individuals who claim Islam as their faith. Yet for the first time in human history, the destructive power of terrorists can be as great as that of a traditional nation-state that has declared war. We need a mechanism to deal with this change.

During World War II, the country was faced with the prospect of large numbers of people -- again identifiable by ethnicity, not conduct -- who were real or potential enemies.

The logic of the Supreme Court's opinion is applicable to the situation we face today. The court held that people ethnically connected to the war-makers are more likely to support them than are others -- and our country at war has a right to protect itself from this presumed higher risk of danger.

Notice what's wrong with this discussion?

Blankley confuses -- quite on purpose, it seems -- the concept of incarercating an "enemy alien" and incarcerations based on "ethnicity."

You see, "enemy aliens" are by definition not citizens. A person's ethnicity, however, does not determine their status as citizens. One may be of Japanese descent, for instance, and still be a full citizen.

This was, of course, the core of the mistake made in the internment of Japanese Americans -- it included some 70,000 citizens among the 110,000 people of Japanese ethnicity who were "evacuated" from the West Coast.

Funny how Blankley makes no mention of that episode -- one in which the subjects' ethnicity was the reason for their incarceration.

But then, the Supreme Court also approved that particular action in two rulings that upheld the evacuation: Hirabayashi and Korematsu. The latter, as Eric Muller described in some detail, arose this week during the Senate confirmation hearings for John Roberts to the Supreme Court.

As Muller explains, Sen. Leahy's question to Roberts regarding Korematsu mischaracterized the ruling and was generally bungled. But Roberts' response, he notes, "gives me very little comfort," muted as it was.

Fortunately, Roberts did make himself clearer in later questioning by Russ Feingold:
FEINGOLD: That's absolutely right. And that's why I want to follow on what Senator Leahy asked about earlier, a different time, a different challenge.

As a nation, we can now look back at wartime Supreme Court decisions like Korematsu v. the United States with something like bewilderment. We talked about it earlier. To me, it seems inconceivable that the United States government would have decided to put huge numbers of citizens in detention centers based on their race and that the Supreme Court would have deferred to the president's decision to do so.

Do you believe that Korematsu was wrongly decided?

ROBERTS: It's one of those cases that I don't think it's technically been overruled yet. But I think it's widely recognized as not having precedential value. I do think the result in that case -- Korematsu was actually considered the exclusion, not the actual detention, but the exclusion of individuals based on their ethnic and racial background from vast areas.

And it's hard for me to comprehend the argument that that would be acceptable these days.

FEINGOLD: It's often included, if you list decisions that are sort of considered some of the worst decisions in the history of the Supreme Court with Plessy v. Ferguson and Dred Scott and others. Is that a fair characterization of your view of Korematsu?


That's fairly unequivocal, and a seemingly straightforward repudiation of Korematsu, although the "I can't imagine an argument" wording has a distinctly weaselish whiff to it.

Muller -- who has been on fire this week -- earlier posted on another ruling of more recent vintage that referred, once again, to the internment rulings. In this case, it was the recent Court of Appeals ruling that cited Ex parte Endo, the 1945 ruling that ended the internment of Japanese Americans.

As Muller explains, the court seemingly misread the clear language of Endo in order to bolster this ruling giving the executive branch virtual carte blanche powers in detaining citizens as "enemy combatants." Given John Roberts' previous inclinations in such rulings, it seems likely that a Roberts-led Supreme Court will be all but certain to validate this historic power grab.

That is, in short, forgetting the lessons of history provided by the internment. But again, we shouldn't be surprised. It's the kind of thing that happens when right-wing ideologues distort and falsify history, and peddle it for millions of gullible consumers.

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