Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

To what are non-Americans entitled?

I came across a quote this morning:

“All men — whether they go by the name of Americans or Russians or Chinese or British or Malayans or Indians or Africans — have obligations to one another that transcend their obligations to their sovereign societies.” (Norman Cousins, author, editor, journalist and professor (1915-1990))

It brought to mind a conversation I had with my dad not long ago regarding Obama’s decision to close Gitmo. Now, I must admit that I’m a life-long conservative-leaning independent, although Obama’s book caused me to adopt a new perspective on many issues. On immigration, welfare, health care, a whole host of issues, my attitude was, “Life isn’t fair or easy, and you make the best of the hand you’re dealt, whether it be good or rotten. I’m all for charity and being my brother’s keeper, but on MY terms — I don’t want the government forcing me to support some shiftless, irresponsible bum who refuses to lift a finger for himself or contribute diddly-squat to the common good.”  

My dad (and most of my family) thus historically share a good bit of ideological ground with me, and we have always been able to discuss politics amicably. Additionally, my dad and I share our Christian faith, which presumably underpins our societal values.

So it brought me up short during that discussion when I pointed out that many of the Gitmo prisoners had been held for years without even a trial, a Constitutionally-guaranteed right, and my dad responded with, “That’s an AMERICAN right! That doesn’t apply to non-Americans!”

Hmm. Did he have a point there? Certainly the Bill of Rights applies uniquely to our own citizens. But does it honor the spirit of our founding principles to round up hundreds of people based on sometimes-flimsy intelligence, and basically lock them up and throw away the key in the name of national security? Does my dad have any idea what it’s like to be whisked away without warning, deprived of all contact with family, friends, or any source of help, and placed at the mercy of a bunch of hostile strangers, not knowing how or when you’ll ever get free? Did our founding fathers ever envision an America where this type of thing would not only happen, but be applauded and hotly defended? Isn’t that the type of tyranny they were trying to escape in the first place?

Was Obama right when he said:

“If there’s an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It’s that fundamental belief – I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sister’s keeper – that makes this country work.”?

How should we as a country treat others — foreigners, who come from different cultures with different religions — when we deem them a potential threat? What is acceptable and not acceptable in the name of national security?


  1. Way past time for bed, so I can’t give it the in-depth answer it deserves. For starters, how about the opening words of the Declaration of Independence? “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

  2. And what a great first diary. I hope this is the first of many.

    As a Non American, but one who’s lived, worked, and even married there, this should be a question I’m constantly asking myself – or being asked by Americans. But the truth is that virtually everyone I’ve encountered on the past four years on these blogs has accepted that I can have a voice on this matter, despite being a non citizen. I’m sure my fellow ‘aliens’ – such as Canadian Gal – would agree.

    Because I’m British too, and our army has fought with the US in so many conflicts, and the transatlantic alliance has been such a key part of our history, even Republicans would allow me into the debate.

    So I take Gitmo, and the Bush Cheney principle of nationalistic unilateralism, as a bizarre post Cold War exception to the American rule of forging a partnership with other nations. And for that reason alone, it cannot hold ‘non citizens’ to a completely different standard to its own.

  3. “The same”.

    I think this is a basic American fundamental: that no matter how barbaric someone else acts we will continue to treat them the way we believe people should be treated.  The effect of doing this all of the time – without exception – is more positive than any benefit we can get by tainting it with a single caveat.

    In my own life I have tried to stick to this and it has resulted in crackheads and bar brawlers apologizing to me for misbehaving, among many other examples.  This is not at all the same as being an enabling push-over – the crackheads and bar brawlers I mention had reason to apologize only because I had informed them that things may not work out so well if they couldn’t manage to act like grownups – it is about treating people like human beings even when you are calling BS on them.

    PS – I know Cheryl and will share this bit of background with the rest of you (that Cheryl already shared in another public forum).

    How about standing near the gate of our compound, talking to an Iraqi whose mission that day seemed to be to waste my time with trivialities? I was trying to tell him I only wanted information about the bad guys, when suddenly a mortar fell not very far from where we were standing. Without skipping a beat, I pointed in that direction and yelled at him, “THAT! That’s what I want to hear about! If you have any information about who’s doing that, come talk to me!”

    Cheryl represents precisely the kind of not-tradition-partisan centrist view that Obama brought to the conversation in the same way as I’m the kind that Rush and the GOP has chased away from theirs.

    Good to see you on the Moose, big C. :~)

  4. Jjc2008

    on whether Obama’s words are right:

    No man is an island, entire of itself. Every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main. If a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less, as well as if a promontory were, as well as if a manor of thy friends or of thine own were. Any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls it tolls for thee.  John Donne

    My father taught me, showed me those words when I was a little girl.  

    To this day, I question how one can call themselves “Christian” and not follow the example of the man who inspired these; the man who chastised his disciples for picking and choosing who to help; a man who was angry at the Pharisees of his own religion for their discrimination against the poor, the women, the sick…….the man who said, “Whatever you do to the least of me, you do to me.”  

    I stopped “practicing” religion years and years ago and ceased labeling myself Christian on anything else because I find the hypocrisy of most religious leaders of all faiths unpalatable.  I think the brilliance of the founders of this democracy, of the authors of the constitution was to not have litmus (or religious) tests on who gets the protection  and who has rights (of course their ideals and practice clashed as Abigail Adams pointed out to John…leaving out Negroes and women made no sense if their ideal was that all men (humans) are created equal).

    In the end,  those who want to use religion, cultural differences, skin color, or gender to decide who gets justice and who does not, have failed in following both the Constitution and their Judeo-Christian tenets.

  5. ragekage

    I was a conservative-leaning independent… don’t know that I’m still not, or, at worst a middle-of-the-road; I had much the same sort of feelings and epiphany, and Gitmo was one of the topics. Welcome to the Moose, hope you stick around and contribute to the discourse!

  6. Cheryl Kopec

    Thank you all for your thoughtful and welcoming responses. I don’t join a lot of blogs, but I think I’ll like it here. I especially appreciate hearing the perspectives of our non-American brothers and sisters!

    You have collectively touched on what America’s really all about, in my opinion, and I hope it’s allright to share your words with my dad and others who feel as he does.

    Ciao for now!


  7. dtox

    I’m not American either, but I think the answer is a no brainer.

    I do quite strongly feel that the last acceptable form of bigotry is nationality. The location of your birth is no more a choice than race, gender or sexuality. People have fundamental rights. How is limiting rights based on someone’s passport the least bit different from limiting it based on the colour of someone’s skin?

  8. creamer

    problems on.

     Its always THAT groups fault. It produces hatred and rivalry. It plays to man’s vanity,”My people (me) are better than yours.” Politicians use it all the time, tends to lead to war.

    In my utopian future humans will evolve to stage that nationalism is a distant memory.

  9. rfahey22

    Not only has it arisen in the context of military detainees, but also when America has gained control of territories that had pre-existing legal and cultural traditions.  In the Insular Cases, decided at the beginning of the twentieth century, the Supreme Court essentially ruled that the full set of constitutional rights do not apply automatically to U.S. territories, but only those that are “fundamental” in nature.  These sorts of issues would arise, for example, in cases where someone was charged with a crime and tried before a judge under the pre-existing legal regime but demanded a jury trial consistent with the Sixth Amendment.  

    More recently, in United States v. Verdugo-Irquidez (1990), the Supreme Court held that the Fourth Amendment did not apply to searches of a Mexican citizen in Mexico.  The defendant was allegedly involved in the torture and killing of a DEA agent; the defendant was abducted from his office by Mexican agents and turned over to the DEA in Texas.  None of this was authorized by the courts or the Mexican government.  Because the defendant did not live in the U.S., the Supreme Court ruled that he did not have an expectation that the Fourth Amendment would apply to him.

    The two major issues that generally arise in these cases are citizenship and territoriality.  Presumably that is one reason why detainees have been kept at Guantanamo and on naval brigs.  

  10. If we take the three items mentioned in the DoI then certain rights granted in the Constitution should apply to all. No one would argue that citizens of other countries have a right to all of the rights available to Americans in America. However, I believe that the preamble to the DoI does indicate that we don’t have the right to kill citizens of other countries without cause. The reference to the right to liberty means that habeas corpus should apply to all, no matter where they are from. I have no idea where the pursuit of happiness comes into this.

  11. spacemanspiff

    … how one defines American. How much time must elapse for an immigrant to be considered American? 1 year? 2 years? 10? What seems to be the cutoff point? Are you an American as soon as you decide to settle down in the country? The first tax season comes around?

    Does one become American as soon as that person moves to the States?

    I think that the United States of America belongs to the world IMHO. It is impossible ( especially knowing the history of this great nation) to deny that being American is as much an attitude as it is a state of mind. I consider myself Puerto Rican and I’m very proud of having been born on the tiny island in the Caribbean. But I also consider myself as American as my born and raised cousins from Goosecreek, South Carolina. Any foreingner who decides to move and dedicate any reasonable amount of time to bettering this country, and themselves in the process can make the claim to being as American as apple pie ( with vanilla ice cream in my case).

    Don’t know if my rambling makes much sense but I go back to the point made by John in the first post. All men (and women) are considered EQUAL seeing that it is front and center in the Declaration of Independence. I think it was very important to the original patriots and it should still be to us.

    I hope you stick around Cheryl. We have a great group here from many walks of life. I hope you join us in helping shape this place even further.

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