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Presumptions of Guilt: If You Have Nothing to Hide, You Have Everything to Fear

Over at Homeland Stupidity, Michael Hampton does a good job of answering the question: “If you have nothing to hide, then what do you have to fear?” His essay is a long and well-considered one with a number of hyperlinks to information and cases backing him up, but one paragraph of his is the keynote:

You think you’re so innocent, try proving it. That’s what “nothing to hide” is about: destroying the notion of innocent until proven guilty, meant to protect we the people from abuse of power, and instituting the barbaric notion of guilty until proven innocent, where anyone can be searched, anyone can be seized, and sometimes, even the trial can be dispensed with. It’s about getting Americans used to the idea of proving their innocence at every opportunity, putting them on trial at the airport or at the roadside. After all, anybody who doesn’t want to prove their innocence must be guilty of something.

The “guilty until proven innocent” stance of the Bush administration is behind the detention without trial of people at Guantanamo Bay, some of whom it turned out were not terrorists after all. The “guilty until proven innocent” stance of the Bush administration justifies the decision to deny a man literally raped by the government the right to take his tormentors to court. The “guilty until proven innocent” stance embraced by the American people leads to the “fucking Mexican pieces of shit” attitude toward immigrants whose presence in the United States is not a felony, but rises only to the legal level of speeding on the highway (which you never do, oh of course not). Why, those ‘Spics talking their funny talk in the corner must be up to something, even if I can’t establish exactly what that might be. When George W. Bush asserts that terrorists are in their midst, we don’t even bother to ask for proof any more. Guilty, guilty, guilty until proven innocent!

“Guilty until proven innocent” is not only a practice that threatens to brutalize harmless members of our society, although it certainly does that. It also marks a more general diversion of government from the “Reality-Based Community” that demands actions against individuals, groups and nations be based on observable fact. Let’s not forget the Bush administration aide who pulled journalist Ron Suskind aside and explained the new scheme:

The aide said that guys like me were ”in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore. We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

The longer we allow the current crop of Republicans to remain in power, the more strongly our government will veer toward acting on the basis of presumption — against foreign nations like Iraq and Iran, to be sure, but also against groups and individuals in this country who have done nothing demonstrably wrong. Election Day 2006 represents an opportunity for us all to remove the presumption of guilt and restore the presumption of innocence. If the American people fail to restore balance this November, if we allow policies of presumption to grow in strength and number, then even those among us with nothing to hide will become uncomfortably well-acquainted with the consequences of fear.

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