How Democracies Work

    Blogger detained for anti-government writings; dies in custody. Head of cyber department fired, 7 officials arrested. Justice & democracy.

    Uncharged detainee dies in custody of drug overdose; after unsupervised autopsy, body kept in storage until after general election, when organs have rotted out, at which time remains sent back to Yemen. Permanent war on terror, business as usual.

    Suicide? Murder? Fuhgiddaboudit. Held 11 years without charges, ordered released by a judged, held anyway...

    Can't blame this one on Bush. When Ahmadinejad's doing a better job than the US, maybe we have an issue worth discussing? Nah. Let's discuss Romney some more.


    Tossing in the notion of "democracy" mucks up the discussion about civil liberties and rights.  In Massachusetts this past election, the "democracy" voted to deny doctors the right to assist in suicides with medication.  I believe it should be the right of terminally ill individual to seek medical assistance in ending one's life if one should so choose.  But in this case the Democracy stepped on this right.  That is how they work.  Technically, an individual can have greater liberty and freedoms under a despot than under the mercy of a democracy. 

    There's a phrase for this issue, no?

    Not only that, but seems to me I heard about something going  on regarding this with "the Arab spring" right now! cheeky

    Talk about mucking up a discussion - comparing the likely murder of an inmate detained without trial with coverup, to an issue of assisted suiicide. From your phrasing, it's just democracy stepping on the inmate's right to charged, have a trial and not to be killed in the middle of the night. No harm, no foul. Brilliant assessment as usual.

    And no, I'm not sure why saying "democracy" mucks up a discussion of civil liberties and rights - just because you have a vote doesn't mean you have democracy or justice. And typically courts uphold the levers of democracy. When the courts don't work, there's little to call democracy.

    Which is why the situation in Egypt is more optimistic than that in the US - the people are complaining about Morsi's power grab and protesting, the judges stepped down in protest. In the US, we just make another excuse and shuffle along. 

    I'm with you on this, Peracles.  It's long past time to clean up the "war on terror" and to let go of our "security state" edicts and decisions.  Obama's human rights legacy is in serious peril.

    I agree with this, but the point I'm making is that following is all about democracy:

    Eighty-three percent of Americans in the latest ABC News/Washington Post poll [02/12] approve of Obama’s use of unmanned drones against terrorist suspects, 78 percent back the drawdown of U.S. troops in Afghanistan and 70 percent favor keeping open the Guantanamo Bay detention center – the latter a reversal by Obama of his 2008 campaign position.

    Strength of sentiment also is very much on the positive side. Strong approval far outpaces strong disapproval, by 55 points on drones (59-4 percent), 47 points on troop withdrawal (56-9 percent) and 29 points on keeping Gitmo running (42-13 percent).

    Two-thirds in this poll, produced for ABC by Langer Research Associates, also favor the use of unmanned drones specifically against American citizens in other countries who are terrorist suspects – potentially touchier legal territory.

    "democracy" is a system of government, but the term has now been given certain inherent qualities and virtues.  the idea that if you give the People the power it will inevitably translate into a just and righteous government is totally off-base.  That is why we need to have the courts to step in and tell the majority when it is wrong.  Having one or few judges overturn the will of the majority is not pure democracy.

    Allowing for assisted suicide and the possible murder of an inmate were compared only to the extent that resolving the issues have nothing to do with whether the state in question operates under the principles of democracy.  I would agree with the sentiment that the stronger the democracy of a country, the more likely such issues will be resolved in a satisfactory way.

    But the point here is that if the majority of the people don't care about or approve of the power grab of the government in matters such as foreign policy, this is as much democracy as when the majority of the people resist the power grab.  It isn't only democracy when the majority agrees with you.  Gitmo maintained its status quo after 2008 because most of those in Congress resisted changes, and they resisted it because the majority of their constituents resisted it. 

    One may claim that people are looking away and shuffling along because they are ignorant of the issues, in which case then it becomes a question of educating them - that is how the marketplace of ideas in a democracy works. 

    If there was a possibility of a murder, then there needs to be an investigation, and to the extent that it was covered up or pushed under the rug by specific individuals and agencies needs to be highlighted. 

    What seems to be further mucking up the discussion is that this particular case is being equated with all of the policies surrounding detainees, and that the dynamics inherent in this one case is a reflection of all the dynamics involved in the policies at large. If you are against the murder of an inmate, then you also have to be against everything else.  Otherwise you are against all of the principle and virtues of democracy.

    Too weird.

    a : government by the people; especially : rule of the majority

    b : a government in which the supreme power is vested in the people and exercised by them directly or indirectly through a system of representation usually involving periodically held free elections

    If it's a "power grab" then it obviously isn't exercised by the people directly or indirectly through a system of representation - someone's biting off far more than allotted, so someone's representation has been stolen.

    Morsi is declaring himself all 3 branches of government. Was that what he was elected to? How do you manage to call an attempted dictatorship a "democracy"? He was shutting down the courts you expect to step in and fix things - explain that?

    You may have a point about murder in and of itself not being a lack of democracy, if you can convince me that more than 2% of the population realizes this guy was killed in our custody and his body was left rotting for 2 months to hide the evidence, avoiding judicial and even police review. As it's a small area of our government, it doesn't bely democracy completely, but combine it with mass surveillance, targeted assassinations, covering for banks' illegal foreclosures - yes, we diminish our democracy.

    However, if the public through apathy & fear decides to turn over the levers of government to a police state, it's no longer a democracy, even if it was a democratic decision. Just like a king can decide to hold elections, and it's no longer a simple monarchy presuming real representation follows.


    Given the complexities of the world, every modern state will have some degree of being a police state.  Generally speaking, we all are willing to give up some of our liberties and rights in exchange for safety and order. Where one draws the line is where the debate is at (while one might be opposed to mass suveillance, one still wants a patrol car to be cruising the neighborhood from time to time to investigate suspicious behavior - then one can debate what constitutes suspicious behavior - and so on and so on).  

    I am not arguing that sweeping the investigation of the death of a detainee under the rug is fine or within the principles of democracy.  And I would say that corruption and other illegal activity within our justice system is entirely unacceptable. 

    My point of contention is more with the sentiment I interpret to be underneath this statement:

    Held 11 years without charges, ordered released by a judged, held anyway...

    His murder and whether the government decided to override the decision of a judge are two entirely different matters.  And at the moment, the majority of the people in the country - the ones who have supreme power - would side with the government and not the judge. (a reason the government felt it could ignore the judge without negative consequences politically) And if it is a view based on ignorance and fear that is one of the reasons why democracy is not perfect, but that is in part how democracies work in the real world. 

    And if the majority approve of targeted assassinations - then what?  Does one ignore the wishes of those who hold supreme power?  In the end, I suppose I am arguing that one can have a democracy and Gitmo - the two are not fundamentally opposed in the broadest sense. 


    No, most democracies do not have people incarcerated for a decade without charges, and certainly not advertised publicly and approved. Holland? Norway? Germany? Canada? Japan? Switzerland?

    Even if at one given time, all democracies did not do this, it still wouldn't mean that one of those democracies could should it choose to.  What seems to be going on here is that the notion of equality of power within the notion of democracy is equated with the notion of equality under the law, as if one cannot believe one without the other.  I would argue that a democracy tends to facilitate such a belief about equality under the law, but I would have you go ask all the men in Egypt protesting the power grab how they would feel about women being their equal under the law. 

    To put it another way, the issues at the heart of the detainees and the appropriate response for the government in these matters would be the same if we still only allowed white men with property to vote in this country.

    Fine, check of a point on a technicality - yes, there can be a representative government that stones or gases or imprisons a portion of its own population, and you can perversely call that a "democracy".

    However, it's exactly this type of due process and humane government that we've referred to over the last 100 years when we've talked about "liberal democracies" vs. repressive totalitarian or fascist states, supposedly what the US had, ignoring sadly the mistreatment of slaves.

    Definition from the WiseGeek: "A liberal democracy is a form of representative democracy in which elected representatives who hold power are limited by a constitution that emphasizes protecting individual liberties, equality and the rights of minority groups. Among the many liberties that might be protected are freedom of speech and assembly, freedom of religion, the right to private property and privacy as well as equality before the law and due process under the rule of law. Suchconstitutional rights, also called liberal rights, are guaranteed through various controlled institutions and statutory laws. Additionally, the constitutions of most contemporary liberal democracies prohibits majoritarianism, which is rule by the will of majority, when it harms those in the minority.

    Elected Representatives

    All liberal democracies are representative democracies, or governments in which representatives are elected by the people through free and fair elections. Some might, however, be constitutional monarchies or federal republics rather than full democracies. In a constitutional monarchy, the figurative head of the government is often determined by heredity, but members of the legislature and other officials, such as a prime minister, are elected by the people. In a federal republic, the national government's power is somewhat limited, and power also is divided among regional governments.

    I agree completely.  But the point being that one needs to qualify what kind of democracy - i.e. liberal democracy - in order to align the democracy with other values such as due process, etc. 

    Moreover, how these are all translated - from what constitutes freedom of religion to due process - as well as how one deals with conflicts in the exercise of these rights - when does privacy trump another's freedom of speech, etc. - is the devil in the details. 

    In other words, what exactly constitutes due process and to whom it applies and to what degree does just appear when one exercises a democratic system.  Your view of what amounts to unconstitutional is just that a view.  When a search and seizure is reasonable is not cut in stone somewhere, but evolves as a result of the culture in which the democracy takes place.

    The big point from which this all started is that if one wants to really have a discussion about the detainee policy, starting from a point of view that your view is the only view one can possibly hold if one believes in the principle of democracy muddies the waters.  It basically shuts down the debate since who are implying that those who see it differently are obviously for some form of dictatorship.

    Oh God, give it up already.

    Liberal democracy doesn't condone indefinite detention nor murder of inmates. Otay, Buckwheat? No more slicing and dicing to be had.

    Liberal democracy doesn't condone indefinite detention nor murder of inmates.

    I agree completely, but of course a "Liberal democracy" such as our national myth thinks we have always had  since the  ratification of our Constitution and continues to be proclaimed as such can morph into something else completely and still be, technically, a democracy.

     Some may be okay with depriving those said by our government to be bad guys of their traditional legal rights of our once liberal democracy as long as they think they still have those rights protected for themselves. They can do this while they support denying those rights to anyone perceived as a threat. They can apparently take that perception quite comfortably from the decrees of a government caught lying daily.

     The following essay by Engelhardt bears on the degradation of our democracy as does one today by Greenwald.

    a "Liberal democracy" such as our national myth thinks we have always had  since the  ratification of our Constitution and continues to be proclaimed as such can morph into something else completely and still be, technically, a democracy.

    Nicely put. 

    I would argue that just about everyone agrees there is a point in which they will allow the "bad guys" to be deprived of their traditional legal rights by the government.  The debate is over how the bad guys and threats are determined and upon what criteria, and the extent of the deprivation that is allowed once the bad guys are identified.  The debate is a fundamental one that has raged between conservatives and liberals, and we, as a nation, are no where near a consensus, in large part because we didn't start out as a partiuclarly liberal democracy and have been working ever since to move in that direction.

    So much of this particular debate boils down about whether one views the situation as a war of some kind, or something else altogether.  Because the two sides are not viewing the problem in the same way, the result it people talking past one another.  Those who see it as a war in good measure take the view that those who declare war on the US and seek to deny its citizens life liberty and pursuit of happiness forfeit their claim to have the rights to those very things.

    I would argue that just about everyone agrees there is a point in which they will allow the "bad guys" to be deprived of their traditional legal rights by the government.

    And there has been shown to be a point quite easy to reach where the comfortably numb will not question the designation and then elimination of 'bad guys' they don't really know anything about. Those guy's designation as bad guys can be done by a secret panel based on secret information acquired from secret sources and their elimination can be justified by secret legal memo's. That is some of the things that we are "allowing", none of which is evidence that we are living in, or even believe in, such a thing as a 'liberal democracy'.


      The National Defense Authorization Act damages our claim to be a liberal democracy, but I doubt it will survive the challenge in the courts.

    I was not making an argument that a liberal democracy did support such things.  But there is nothing that guarantees that American will always support only those things that are aligned with the liberal democracy that evolved from Western values, as much of American cultural and political history will demonstrate.  What you really appealing to is not democracy, liberal or otherwise, but those values that evolved over time and led to embracing such things as a representative democracy as a form of governance.  Unfortunately, not all of Americans embrace these underlying values in the same way, nor define them in application the same way. 

    In other words, you desire that America be a shining example of liberal democracy is a matter of opinion and aspiration, not a right.  The progressive struggle has been over the centuries a struggle to move America closer to this ideal, in the face of resistance not just from the Man, but from other people, other citizens, who view things differently.

    I happen to wish it was such an example, but when the majority of American wish to keep Gitmo open says that we are as a nation far from it.  And to a large extent, our politicians - our representatives - become a reflection of that reality.   It still blow me away that in the 21st century we had to have a national debate about torture.  But we did. 

    Lastly, the arguments around indefinite detention are not the same as the discussion about a possible murder of inmates.  These are two very different things, and it seems you want those who support indefinite detention to also be labeled as supporting the murder of inmates.  (One might argue that the national and organizational culture that embraces indefinite detention would facilitate the greater likelihood that people would one - be willing to commit the murder of an inmate - and two - be willing to look the other way if someone else did.)

    Again, the point here is that if you truly want to have a discussion about the issue, rather than just make a point that you're right and the other side is wrong, than you would be better served not trying to tie the values that support your position as being somehow inherent in the belief that supreme power is vested with the People. 

    No, America's example of liberal democracy comes from the Constitution, to which the President swears allegiance to.

    Habeas Corpus and right to a speedy trial are embued in the Constitution, as is right to not be deprived of life, liberty and property (i.e. not be murdered).

    While any society will have trouble living up to its ideals, explicitly rejecting those ideals & values for fear or expediency simply means the society is not that ideal - the more it rejects, the more inappropriate the tag "liberal democracy". 

    It's really not terribly arbitrary or philosophical. I can imagine most who want Gitmo to stay open think America isn't a liberal democracy, that that's not their goal. Whether they understand the names of the systems they're emulating, I haven't a clue, but just because they or you can't name it doesn't mean the labels & descriptions don't exist, that we have to circle this rabbit hole forever arguing about what the meaning of is is. If they're pushing for indefinite uncharged detention, targeted uncharged assassination, murder of inmates with coverup, they're rejecting significant portions of liberal democracy.

    One has a right to liberty, but if you commit certain crimes, is is unconstitutional for the state to deprive you of that liberty by tossing you into prison?  Is the death penalty constitutional? Some would say it is.  I could go on with examples, but the point is that there is an on-going debate in this country about what the Constitution means when it comes to rights and when are the exceptions to the rule kosher.  Again to return to my original point - if you refuse to accept that there is this debate, that it simply your interpretation which is right* and the others wrong - you not going to be very effective in persuading others.  Maybe persuasion isn't your goal.  In which case you should have ignored my original post.

    *By and large I would agree with your interpretation that Constitution would support a more liberal democracy than we currently have.

    What? The system of laws is constructed within the Constitution and the bodies that uphold it. If there's a law based on the Constitution to throw you in jail for murder, then it's a legal outcome. There's no "exception" in throwing you in jail for violating laws within the Constitution - it's codified. There are no asterisks however for "exceptions to the rule kosher". There are powers provided to the 3 branches, and then powers retained by the states and the citizenry. There's no "massage it any way you want it" clause.

    There simply is no debate over whether waterboarding or indefinite detention form part of a liberal democracy, much less outright murder. They don't. You can wedge them into our accepted practices by hook and by crook, using military tribunals, extraordinary rendition, and other frauds, but by doing so, you're simply declaring and accepting our system of government is less liberally democrat than if we'd maintained values from 13 years ago.

    Now there is a way to amend the Constitution in a way less liberally democratic, but in general, our amendments have been positive - Bill of Rights, slavery amendments, women's suffrage.

    If I have a right to the pursuit of happiness, then how can a law be developed that infringes on that and still be constitutional?  It is because we understand we do not have an absolute right to the pursuit of happiness.  We allow for the government to deprive people of their property if it is in the state's interest.  And so on.  These are the exceptions.

    I agree with you about something waterboarding etc and a liberal democracy.  But what shall one do when not everyone in your democracy wants it to be so liberal. 

    If things were so clear and obvious, maybe we wouldn't have to fight a civil war a century after the country adopted the constitution. 

    If the majority doesn't want to be so liberal, stop calling it a liberal democracy.

    But we had the 10 Commandments since when? You're making it too tough.

    The Constitution and system of laws give processes for when the state can take property. Most of the time this is followed. Sometimes it turns ugly, and if it turns ugly too often, we start talking about failed states, corrupt states, crony capitalism, et al - not liberal democracy.

    The issue of the Civil War was clear from the beginning - lust for profits trumped liberal democracy in writing the Constitution, so slavery was codified.

    I would never call America a liberal democracy, when comparing it to modern democracies (as opposed to countries in 16th century).  So I can't stop calling it a liberal democracy when i never said it was.

    And the the ten commandents? so you want the police to arrest guys for lusting over their neighbor's wife? really?

    And the lust for profits can blind people to the reality of the Constitution for a century.  Why not another lust for another century.  What is your lust?

    Ok, you favor the police state kind of voting democracy. Noted.

    Ten commandments includes though shalt not kill, steal, infringe on IP (thy neighbor's wife & ass), marriage rights - primitive, but would have kept the guy at Gitmo alive.

    see below

    Well, maybe considering the thread above the one thing we can all agree upon

    Latest Comments