What’s in a name?

A few readers have objected to my use of the term “terrorist rights wing of the Republican party” to describe Senators McCain, Graham, and Warner. Short-hand descriptions of movements or factions are often imperfect and sometimes misleading. Think, for example, of the mischief in the term “civil rights movement” as applied to its current incarnation.

But as short-hand descriptions go, “terrorist rights” gets it just about right. For that is precisely McCain and company have been pushing for — the right of terrorists to more judicial process than they initially were granted; the right of terrorists to avoid aggressive interrogation techniques that the administration successfully has used to obtain important information from them; the right of terrorists to find out more about the evidence that will be used against them than the administration was willing to have disclosed in certain cases, and so forth. The term “terrorist rights” is no more unfair as applied to these advocates than the term “gay rights” is for advocates of gay marriage, legalizaion of gay sexual practices, etc.

But is there some other short-hand description that works better in this instance? One might speak of “detainee rights.” However, that would tend to obscure the critical fact that we’re talking about a special sort of detainee here — one who is out to destroy us through terrorism. One might speak (awkwardly) of “accused terrorist rights” or “alleged terrorist rights.” However, that would gloss over the fact that the desire of McCain, Graham, et al to bestow rights on these folks is not contingent on the fact that some of them may be innocent of terrorism. McCain does not want Khalid Sheikh Mohammad to be subjected to waterboarding even if he is a terrorist (as he indisputably is).

I can understand why one might be bothered by the term “terrorist rights.” But to the extent the term is bothersome, the problem lies not in the description but in the concept and what it entails.

JOHN adds: I posted here on my visit to Colorado Springs for the 10th Circuit’s Bench and Bar Conference. I participated in a panel with Eugene Volokh and a lefty who posts on SCOTUS Blog.com. Eugene went first, then me. So far, so good. But the liberal, at some point in his speech, claimed that I had done a post–just that morning!–in which I referred to the “terrorist rights wing of the Republican Party.”

I had no idea what he was talking about, but I knew that I had spent the entire day getting from Minneapolis to Colorado Springs, and interjected–I didn’t really have to interrupt, since he stopped and looked at me in a sort of triumphant way–that I hadn’t written anything at all that day. This threw the liberal into some confusion, and the program moved on.

It did raise in my mind, though, the question whether there is something wrong, as he certainly believed, with referring to McCain et al. as the “terrorist rights wing” of the party. Upon reflection, I concluded that this is a fair and objective way to describe those in either party who want to expand the substantive or procedural rights granted to terrorists in our military and judicial systems.

Even though the appropriateness of this description seems, frankly, too clear to be worth much discussion, liberals have gone ballistic at the idea that they are advancing the rights of terrorists.

Why? That’s a good question. But to get the answer, you’ll have to ask them, not us.


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