I watched a show last night on the Discovery Channel called “The Price of Security,” a documentary hosted by Ted Koppel which was followed by a live “town hall” discussion of some of the thought-provoking issues it raised. First of all, I have to say that I think Ted Koppel did a pretty amazing job. The program informed, angered and gave hope to people like me who sometimes feel that our politics and ideology are too far left of center to be part of the national consciousness. It was strange to find myself in agreement with some of the opinions voiced at the town hall meeting by people who I would consider conservatives. It just goes to show that I shouldn’t be so quick to judge others because they are coming from a different perspective. In the end, we may actually agree that there is a problem even if we don’t agree about the solution, or more specifically in this case, that there is a solution which has become a problem.
But let me back up for those of you who didn’t watch the special last night. In the documentary, Koppel traces the events following the attacks on 9/11 which resulted in a declaration of war against terrorism rather than war against a specific state (an ambiguous proposition) and the subsequent curtailment of civil liberties in an effort to aid in the gathering of intelligence in fighting that war.
Koppel then takes us on a tour of the detention center at Guantanamo where suspected terrorists or enemy combatants are held. When the interrogation techniques at Guantanamo came under fire for human rights abuses a few years ago, the C.I.A. simply stepped in and set up secret overseas detention centers, so-called Black Sites, to interrogate suspects outside of the U.S. using more “effective techniques” than U.S. law would allow.
I don’t know why, but I was shocked. After visiting Salem, MA just a few weeks ago I found it too easy to draw parallels between the way the accused witches and anyone suspected of being a terrorist were treated. The coffin cells, isolation, suspension, even the ducking (we call the process “waterboarding”) were straight out of the witch trials.
C.I.A. proposes new, improved interrogation method.
The argument has been made that the right to due process does not apply to suspected terrorists, especially since most detainees are not U.S. citizens. Furthermore, not even the guidelines described in the Third Geneva Convention which relates to the humanitarian treatment of prisoners can protect these suspected, yet untried detainees from witch-hunt style torture meant to extract confessions which will likely have all the validity that the testimony of the Salem witch trials produced.
I am not trying to say that these detainees are innocent. I’m more concerned with the question of who the fuck are we as a country? Who are we that we can pull people off the street and not even tell them what they’re accused of, without the right to face their accuser? Who are we that we can detain people indefinitely, subject them to sleep deprivation, waterboarding, hooding, psychological humiliation, and physical pain? Who are we that we allow our leaders to set themselves above the laws that we as a democracy chose to best serve our goals and ideals? It is up to us to demand that our leaders respect the principles of democracy, even when we are engaged in the defense of those same principles.
Isn’t it incredible that the President is just now attempting to get Congress to vote on a proposed law which would allow what he euphemistically calls “rough tactics,” but which in fact amounts to torture of suspected enemies? And just who are these enemies? What makes them suspect? Is it their religion, their color, the things they say, who their friends are? Someone I know has kids who planned to participate in a peaceful anti-war demonstration in California last week. It was shut down by local police who claimed that it was on a government list of terrorist organizations.
The hypocrisy of declaring a war against "fascism" and then using fascist tactics to fight it seems to be lost on our administration. All they seem to be able to talk about is how fucking scared they are and how scared we all should be. Maybe they should consider the words of an earlier President who once calmed a frightened nation with the phrase “there’s nothing to fear but fear itself.” Oh, I know FDR wasn’t perfect and I understand that presidents need to exert some extra control during wartime, but shouldn’t there be guidelines in place even for that? We can’t just say 'anything goes' in our effort to facilitate secrecy and dispatch. Not to go quote crazy, but remember the one about “absolute power corrupts absolutely”?