15 May 2010


CIA. "Under a secret program approved by this administration, you can now be killed by a CIA drone attack even if the agency can't verify you by name, or attest to your participation in extremism." So reports Jayne Lyn Stahl at the Huffington Post. She goes on to note that "in the past, the CIA was limited to taking out only those on an approved list, but now anyone 'deemed to pose a threat to the U.S.' is fair game, even if their identity is unknown."

The shock waves to my understanding of civil, criminal and military justice are seismic. To whom do we entrust the power of playing judge, jury and executioner, in the complete absence of evidence of wrong-doing? If I saw such a scenario in a book or movie, it would strain credulity. I'm no stranger to war, or Byzantine power politics, or human barbarity. That doesn't mean we should condone, much less participate in, the very terrorist acts we claim to be combatting. After all, we can't seem to get it right even with the minimal oversight of an approved list of targets for unmanned, missile-firing predator drones. An approved drone attack killed an American-born radical cleric in Yemen -- in effect, proving that the government can execute one of its own citizens far from a combat zone, with no judicial process and based on secret intelligence. The attack has roused debate, and rightfully so, regarding the legal and political limits of drone missile strikes.

MONTANA WOLVES. For the first time since the once-endangered gray wolf was re-introduced to portions of the northern Rocky Mountains, the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks Commission is recommending that wolf populations actually be decreased by 8-20 percent. Last year in Montana was the first legal wolf season in decades, but for the region's hunters and ranchers, it didn't go far enough. They want the hunt quota to be increased dramatically, and unless public protest is loud enough, they may get their wish.

Historically, claims of predation on livestock have been exaggerated throughout the West. Even when substantiated, there are (or ought to be, as in Michigan) avenues for loss reimbursement from the Feds and from conservation groups. I find it troubling that just when these magnificent predators are reclaiming even a fraction of their former range, the blood lust of humans (notably hunters) won't let the wolves reach sustainable numbers. News flash -- the predator-prey relationship is dynamic and self-limiting. As natural prey numbers rise, so do those of predators. If predators overhunt their food resource, their own numbers dwindle, allowing prey populations to recover. The cycle has been well documented. It is noteworthy that only when humans interfere, slaughtering both predator and prey species and destroying their habitat, do things go haywire. They were here first. We are the interlopers. It is incumbent upon us to learn to coexist. We did not inherit the earth. We are the stewards of the earth, and all its creatures.

MOVIES. By chance, within the past few days I watched two powerful, transformative movies. The first was a paean to the generosity of the human spirit, Monsieur Ibrahim. This quiet, transcendent film explores the evolving relationship between a French Jewish orphan and an elderly Turkish Muslim storekeeper. It is an uplifting work of subtle art.

The second fim, The Stoning of Soraya M., takes the viewer to a much starker place in the human soul -- but no less real, for it is based on a true story, one instance among many thousands around the world. This is not an easy movie to watch, but it is one of the most important to appear in many years. We tend to view ourselves and our culture as civilized, living beyond the incomprehensible ancient laws which allow a woman or man to be legally stoned to death. Yet I believe that a mob mentality, and the capacity for grotesque murder, lie latent not only in every culture, but also in every individual. It only requires the right provocation at the right moment to turn any of us to the dark side. Most of us never experience that confluence, so consider ourselves immune. But just as every soldier never knows how he/she will respond until actually in combat, so every person never knows how he/she will respond to a gut-wrenching moral dilemma with no good choices, only bad ones. This is especially so when one surrenders ethical decisions to a religious, military or political authority figure.

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