During the Clinton presidency I recall the cries and warnings of
pseudo-conservatives, especially folks like Rush Limbaugh, that our freedoms were being taken away, big brother was coming to enforce libertine ethics on our families etc… Fast-forward to today, and many “conservatives” have prostituted themselves and any legitimacy they may once have had to defend policies and decisions that–if made by an administration they hadn’t staked their political futures on–they would have decried as leading to the end of the freedom and virtue this nation was founded upon.
Take the following examples. Ten years ago, how would people have responded to stories of our government kidnapping people–even criminals or terrorists? Have we become so set on safety and survival that we not only give up our own freedoms for it, but are willing to do things that are unquestionably evil (and I use that term deliberately), practice the vices of governments that for years we have chastised, abuse people in ways that the US was established to oppose? And yet still we sooth ourselves with the mantra that we’re a “good people” and a “great nation” and that “they hate us because of our freedom,” as “America’s Mayor” has trotted out for the press so often. If that’s true, then they won’t have reason to hate us much longer. It’s a brave new world, and the freedom we so often parade has shown itself to be it’s own means of societal control–a counterfeit liberty.
Take for example the response of the Republican candidates to questions about the use of torture in one of the debates earlier this year. Of the field, only one candidate stated definitively that he would not authorize the torture of prisoners to get information–John McCain. To be fair, I’ve since read that Ron Paul has also stated he would not use torture. The rest of the candidates said flat out that they would use torture or tried to play games with the question rephrasing it to sanitize it by using the term “enhanced interrogation techniques.”
John McCain was not just morally right when he said he wouldn’t resort to torture, he was also correct from a utilitarian perspective when he said that information extracted under torture is notoriously unreliable. He’s also correct when he says this: “It’s not about the terrorists, it’s about us. It’s about what kind of country we are.”
Or, to put it another way, in the reimagined sci fi series Battlestar Gallactica, Admiral Adama says that their fight with their Cylon enemies is not just about survival, but deserving to survive. Perhaps thats a question we need to ask ourselves as we defend our way of life: does what we’re doing make us more or less deserving of survival?
Consider that as you read this editorial, “Sorry about the torture; we thought you were one of the terrorists.”
Here’s the problem with Guantanamo Bay – and secret CIA prisons on foreign soil – in a nutshell: If the prisoners being held there are illegal enemy combatants, then most Americans believe they do not deserve all the procedural niceties afforded by the Constitution. But the only fair way to figure out if a prisoner qualifies as an illegal enemy combatant is to follow the procedural niceties guaranteed by the Constitution.
And the Bush administration hasn’t even come close.
Take Khaled el-Masri. He was kidnapped by American agents while he was vacationing in Macedonia in 2003. He was beaten, stripped, dressed in a diaper and sweatsuit, and then chained, spread-eagle, to the floor of an airplane. He was flown to Afghanistan – where he was held incommunicado and, he says, tortured in a secret prison for five months. By then, U.S. agents realized they had the wrong guy. Khaled el-Masri was not, in fact, Khalid al-Masri, the terrorist. Whoops, sorry about that! El-Masri was then dumped in Albania and left to find his way home.
ON TUESDAY, citing the state secrets doctrine, the Supreme Court said el-Masri could not bring a civil suit in U.S. court. Germany’s parliament continues to investigate the episode.
If el-Masri’s were an isolated case, that would be one thing. But it is not. Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen, was kidnapped by U.S. agents and spirited to Syria, where authorities tortured him for 10 months. A subsequent inquiry by Canadian authorities determined “categorically” that there was “no evidence to indicate that Arar has committed any offense.” El-Masri and Arar are not alone.
How do Americans know the prisoners held captive in Guantanamo are not also victims of the fog of war but are, as the Bush administration claims, the “worst of the worst”? We don’t.
Take Australian David Hicks, the first Guantanamo prisoner to be convicted under the 2006 Military Commissions Act. According to press reports, “The high school dropout, Muslim convert, and al-Qaida recruit fought for two hours alongside the Taliban before he sold his rifle for taxi fare and was captured trying to escape Afghanistan in December 2001.” He was held at Guantanamo for more than five years before pressure from the Australian government led to a plea agreement – in which Hicks was sentenced to all of nine months’ imprisonment, on condition that he stop alleging that he was physically abused.