Today’s blog entry is an opportunity to reflect on where we are five years after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Use the comments section as a place for your own reflections. Here are a few of mine.
Last night on the Discovery Channel, Ted Koppel’s special The Price of Security brought together on odd confluence: ACLU executive director Anthony Romero and former Secretary of Homeland Security and former PA Governor Tom Ridge in agreement. Governor Ridge and Anthony echoed a sentiment that has been expressed by others from across the political board. We need to take a hard look at who we are. Governor Ridge talked about friends from overseas who hold a mirror and ask him, “Is this who you are?”
That’s where we are five years after that terrible day. We shouldn’t be afraid to ask ourselves the hard questions, and our answers shouldn’t be the result of being afraid.
Are the people free when the FBI can conduct a search without showing “probable cause,” as mandated in the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution? Are we free when the NSA can pipe in on our phone calls and e-mails without connecting us to a terrorist group? The administration claims that they are only conducting surveillance on those who are receiving calls or making calls to terrorist groups, but who is verifying that? No one.
Are we free when political advocacy groups like PETA, Greenpeace, and the Thomas Merton Center find themselves targets of FBI surveillance?
Is this what it means to be an American?
An hour or two later they came back, checked the tautness of his chains and pushed him over on his stomach. Transfixed in his bonds, Omar toppled like a figurine. Again they left. Many hours had passed since Omar had been taken from his cell. He urinated on himself and on the floor. The MPs returned, mocked him for a while and then poured pine-oil solvent all over his body. Without altering his chains, they began dragging him by his feet through the mixture of urine and pine oil. Because his body had been so tightened, the new motion racked it. The MPs swung him around and around, the piss and solvent washing up into his face. The idea was to use him as a human mop. When the MPs felt they’d successfully pretended to soak up the liquid with his body, they uncuffed him and carried him back to his cell. He was not allowed a change of clothes for two days.
While he was at Guantanamo, Omar was beaten in the head, nearly suffocated, threatened with having his clothes taken indefinitely and, as at Bagram, lunged at by attack dogs while wearing a bag over his head. “Your life is in my hands,” an intelligence officer told him during an interrogation in the spring of 2003. During the questioning, Omar gave an answer the interrogator did not like. He spat in Omar’s face, tore out some of his hair and threatened to send him to Israel, Egypt, Jordan or Syria – places where they tortured people without constraints: very slowly, analytically removing body parts. The Egyptians, the interrogator told Omar, would hand him to Asfyri raqm tisa – Soldier Number Nine. Soldier Number Nine, the interrogator explained, was a guard who specialized in raping prisoners.
Omar’s chair was removed. Because his hands and ankles were shackled, he fell to the floor. His interrogator told him to get up. Standing up was hard, because he could not use his hands. When he did, his interrogator told him to sit down again. When he sat, the interrogator told him to stand again. He refused. The interrogator called two guards into the room, who grabbed Omar by the neck and arms, lifted him into the air and dropped him onto the floor. The interrogator told them to do it again – and again and again and again. Then he said he was locking Omar’s case file in a safe: Omar would spend the rest of his life in a cell at Guantanamo Bay.
(“The Unending Torture of Omar Khadr,” Rolling Stone, August 24, 2006)
And how would we respond if our service men and women were treated this way by a foreign government or entity?
Choosing between being secure or being free is a false choice. We can be both. No country can guarantee that a terrorist attack will never happen on its territory. China is a perfect example. Abusing civil rights and human rights through torture and a kangaroo court system is the norm for the PRC, but it still has dealt with violent attacks from domestic entities.
In an op-ed in yesterday’s Patriot News, Dr. Matthew Woessner from Penn State-Harrisburg suggested that freedom needs to be restricted during this time of “war” and went on to compare the current struggle to World War II and the Cold War. Dr. Woessner justifies this restriction because it has happened during most conflicts in our nation’s history.
But WWII ended in three years and eight months. General Anthony Zinni (ret.) stated last night on Koppel’s program that those at Central Command consider the current struggle as “the long war” and expect it to last “a generation.” Does that mean that freedom will be restricted for decades?
Dr. Woessner’s comparison to the Cold War may, in fact, be appropriate. Like the Cold War, the current struggle is between opposing ideologies with occasional outbursts of violence, largely in small countries. The Communists were as feared and as hated as the terrorists. Thousands of Soviet nukes were pointed directly at us, and we could have been obliterated literally at any minute.
But we didn’t detain Communists indefinitely throughout the time of the Cold War. We didn’t torture Communists. And American presidents from Truman to George H. W. Bush did not shatter the Bill of Rights to defend us from Communists (for the most part). The abuses of freedom that did occur- the McCarthy era, COINTELPRO- were recognized quickly as abuses, not necessities in a time of war.
If anything, the Cold War proved that we can be both safe and free, and there is no reason why we cannot be both safe and free today.
September 11, 2001, is a day we will all remember, and while we’re remembering, we should remember what makes this country great. Let us pay homage today to those who lost their lives five years ago. May their deaths not signal the beginning of the end of American freedom.
Andy in Harrisburg
Philadelphia Inquirer: Remember 9/12?
NY Times: 9/11/06
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