Saturday, May 23, 2009

The dream police, they live inside of my head

The Minority Report, like most of Philip K. Dick's fiction, offers a bleak and disturbing preview of the future where things like "Precrimes" are in fact criminal offenses:
Founded thirty years prior to the story, Precrime is a system which punishes people with imprisonment for murders they would have committed, had they not been prevented. This method has replaced the traditional system of discovering a murder and its perpetrator(s) after the crime, then issuing punishment for a completed action. As one character says in the introduction to the story, "punishment was never much of a deterrent and could scarcely have afforded comfort to a victim already dead". Unlike the film adaptation, the story version of Precrime does not deal solely with cases of murder, but all crimes. As John Anderton (the initiator of Precrime) states, "Precrime has cut down felonies by ninety-nine and decimal point eight percent."

Yeah, well, so does putting citizens in internment camps. But that's not gonna happen. Oh wait . . .

Seriously, President Obama's National Security speech the other day brings up a thorny and problematic issue: what do we do with alleged terrorist 'pre-criminals'?
Finally, there remains the question of detainees at Guantanamo who cannot be prosecuted yet who pose a clear danger to the American people.

I want to be honest: this is the toughest issue we will face. We are going to exhaust every avenue that we have to prosecute those at Guantanamo who pose a danger to our country. But even when this process is complete, there may be a number of people who cannot be prosecuted for past crimes, but who nonetheless pose a threat to the security of the United States. Examples of that threat include people who have received extensive explosives training at al Qaeda training camps, commanded Taliban troops in battle, expressed their allegiance to Osama bin Laden, or otherwise made it clear that they want to kill Americans. These are people who, in effect, remain at war with the United States.

Yeah. McJoan at Daily Kos has some ideas:
These detainees should be reclassified as prisoners of war, bound by Geneva Conventions as the "clear, defensible and lawful standards" that we already have in place. But beyond that, there needs to be an accounting for why they "cannot be prosecuted for past crimes." That is a part of the accountability that the rule of law demands. You cannot at the same time reiterate "our values" and "our timeless ideals" and the "rule of law" and indefinitely, "preventively" detain people in prison with no charges or proof of any crime. The legal limbo that these men have existed in for the past eight years has to end.

Because sexual criminals have high recidivism rates, many people recommend pre-criminal detention for them even after they've served their convictions. Is this an easy to solve issue? Hardly. But unless we want to give in to Big Brother and live in the Dicks' future (Philip K. & Cheney), we really need to work something out.

Oh, and Dick Cheney? Verb, object.