Captain America: The Winter Soldier is one badass movie. As well as being a great movie it also explores themes like privacy, civil liberties and government overreach. The story starts out with Steve Rogers AKA Captain America (Chris Evans) trying to adjust to the 21st century and working for SHIELD a government organization that is overseen and controlled by a transnational board of directors called the “World Security Council”. SHIELD’s goal is to protect the world from violent attacks such as terrorism, political unrest etc.
Rogers, after having fought in WWII now works for SHIELD but has some reservations about the morality of his missions. These reservations are brought to the forefront when Nick Fury shows him SHIELD’s newest endeavor; Project Insight. The project’s end is simple; to eliminate threats before they become actual dangers to people. SHIELD intends to do this by launching permanently flying helicarriers with the capacity to kill a thousand targets a minute (yeah, scary). The helicarriers determine their targets through an algorithm that assesses their risk of becoming a threat. Needless to say, Fury and Rogers have some disagreements about SHIELD’s methods:
Nick Fury: These new long range precision guns can eliminate a thousand hostiles a minute. The satellites can read a terrorist’s DNA before he steps outside his spider hole. We’re gonna neutralize a lot of threats before they even happen.
Steve Rogers: I thought the punishment usually came after the crime.
Nick Fury: We can’t afford to wait that long.
Steve Rogers: Who’s “we”?
Nick Fury: After New York, I convinced the World Security Council we needed a quantum surge on threat analysis. For once we’re way ahead of the curve.
Steve Rogers: By holding a gun to everyone on Earth and calling it protection.
Nick Fury: You know, I read those SSR files. Greatest generation? You guys did some nasty stuff.
Steve Rogers: Yeah, we compromised. Sometimes in ways that made us not sleep so well. But we did it so the people could be free. This isn’t freedom, this is fear.
Nick Fury: SHIELD takes the world as it is, not as we’d like to be. And it’s getting damn near past time for you get with that program, Cap.
Steve Rogers: Don’t hold your breath.
After an exchange like that how could Captain America not be your favorite superhero!? (I may be a bit biased where superheroes are concerned.) He takes on Fury directly and hints at several different concepts, one of the most prominent is called “procedural due process”. According to Cornell University School of Law’s Legal Information Institute, Due process is a “principle required by the Constitution that when the state or federal government acts in such a way that denies a citizen of a life, liberty, or property interest, the person must first be given notice and the opportunity to be heard.” Pretty much Rogers is saying; “You can’t just go around killing people without a trial! They don’t even get a chance to defend themselves from the the accusations made against them!” Not only does this appease my sense of justice (and likely most people’s) but the US government is required by the constitution to give people this chance regardless if there is overwhelming evidence that they are guilty. Of course there have been times when it ignores completely this requirement, even with US citizens.
Nick Fury’s position can, unsurprisingly, be found in the halls of congress. According to Fury, civil liberties, including due process, must sometimes take a backseat to keeping people safe. The first time I watch this movie I thought instantly of presidential hopeful Sen. Lindsey Graham (R) of South Carolina.
In 2011 there was a debate on the senate floor regarding whether someone suspected of having joined a terrorist organization who resides in the US (this includes citizens) could be held indefinitely. Lindsey Graham took an impassioned (and terrifying) stand saying: “And when they say, ‘I want my lawyer,’ you tell them: ‘Shut up. You don’t get a lawyer. You are an enemy combatant, and we are going to talk to you about why you joined Al Qaeda.’ ”
According to Graham national security, takes precedent over your right to defend yourself in court. You could be held by the military and questioned without access to a lawyer or any kind of defense simply for being accused of terrorism. All of this assumes that the government is genuinely trying to keep people safe, but if you are an inconvenience to the US government and they have a tool that can make you disappear forever they have no incentive not to. If the practice of doling out justice without any due process for the suspect gets into the wrong hands then innocents could be targeted (SPOILER: this totally happens in the movie.)
Graham’s view on national security, much like Fury’s view on Project Insight, requires a disregard for procedural due process, a willingness to mete out justice without any kind of hearing in a court of law, and a blasé attitude toward potential abuse of such a system.
If Sen. Lindsey Graham, and other presidential hopefuls this election cycle expect me to, like Captain America, “get with [the] program.” I’ll answer like Steve Rogers did; “Don’t Hold your breath.”