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Innocent until proven guilty

Compare and contrast this passage from Nelson Algren's Nonconformity...

For so deeply now do we presume the accused to be guilty by the act of having been accused, that it seems to us no more than an act of atonement to turn the knife on himself. The accused who stubbornly declines this form of confession is now advised that either the answers he would have given would have incriminated him or else he would not have declined. Refusal to reply thus becomes an automatic confession of guilt. You're damned if you do and you're damned if you don't. Leaving us with the implication that the men who devised the Fifth Amendment had in mind not the protection of the innocent, but of the guilty. How sick can you get?

...with this recent item from Boing Boing:

CNN has discovered that the TSA considers "complaining about TSA procedures" to be a profiling marker for potential terrorists. They explain that one terrorist (the "twentieth hijacker") complained a lot about TSA screening, and so that means "getting angry about TSA screening procedures" goes in the "signs of terrorist intent" bucket.

So much for being innocent until proven guilty - just complaining about inappropriate treatment from the TSA will get you tagged as a potential terrorist. Although Algren was writing in direct reference to the McCarthy anti-Communist witchhunts of the 1950s, he clearly would not have been surprised at the absurdity of the War on Terror, over fifty years later. Algren also quotes the following from Judge Learned Hand:

Risk for risk, for myself I had rather take my chance that some traitors will escape detection than spread a spirit of general suspicion and distrust.

I'm guessing Hand wouldn't have been a big fan of our current paranoia either.

April 18, 2011 in Books, Current Affairs | Permalink