Why would we allow the terrorists to win by doing to ourselves what they could never do, and abandon the principles for which so many Americans today and through our history have fought and sacrificed?”. . .
I have been grieving, and trying to find a voice, a language, for that grief. I have so far failed to achieve the elequence of Senetor Patrick Leeahy, still my grief, however inelequent, will not hold it's tounge
Today dawned with the news that the Senate has endorsed Bush’s proposals for the treatment of "terror suspects".
I never thought of myself as a patriot until recently, until after the word was co-oped by fascists. As too often happens with love, I came to understand how much I love my country only after finding it slipping away.
I loved the things that once set this country apart, I was so enchanted by our legal system that at one point I seriously considered becoming a lawyer. I am particularly partial to the notion of the presumption of innocence, and the idea that if we suspect that someone has committed a crime, all the parties come together, face to face, and present the facts and evidence to an impartial judge and jury. I loved that we honored Habeas Corpus, an ethic that has stood for hundreds of years, in numerous countries, dating back to the Magna Carta. I am a mom, and I appreciate the need to keep our streets, as well as our tall buildings, safe; but if you think someone is a threat, take it to court. Thats my position.
I loved that we were champions of the Geneva Convention, I loved that we stood for individual freedoms and justice, above all els. I loved that I was raised on the Voltaire credo "I may disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it."
Today, in my home town, and in home towns throughout this once brave nation, people are being targeted for their participation in Quaker meetings, for opposing the War, for association with environmental groups, for their bumper stickers. seriously. I have stopped using the city's mass transit system because they have a policy of detaining and reporting to the police folks who's bikes have stickers baring the name of the Florida indy group "this bike is a pipe bomb". I don't have such a sticker on my bike, but I have a conscience, and a respect for the Constitution (remember the Constitution?) and an absolute belief that your right to swing your arm extends right up to a hair's breadth of my nose.
A bumper sticker is not shouting "fire" in a crowded theater. Whatever you, or I, or anyone els thinks of such a bumper sticker --or a particular religion, or political persuasion-- our system of government champions the right to have and declare that sentiment, faith, or perspective. No one should have to justify their beliefs to a bus driver, or anyone els.
Who are we if we no longer believe that. If we are no longer the land of the free and the home of the brave? What are we without the Bill of Rights and the Constitution? When did these things cease to be our birthright? When did we stop believing in them?
During the Holly Wars, Afghanistan not only refrained from torturing their prisoners of war, they made a point of treating them humanly. They did this absent any Genivia Convention, UN observers or letters from Amnesty International. They treated their prisoners with basic human dignity because of how doing so reflected on they themselves, the captors. They held themselves to high standards, and in doing so, held the moral high ground. This policy of humane treatment did not make them weak, or vulnerable, or less effective in their wars. It just meant they stood for something. The same was once true of our Nation, standing for freedom, justice and human rights did not make us weak, it made us strong, and it made us great.
I no longer think of becoming a lawyer, these days I think about studying French and moving to Canada, seriously.
Of course, these days I cant think about Canada without thinking about Maher Arar, the Canadian computer consultant and father of two, who was detained by US authorities in New York City in September, 2002. He then became one more victem of the administration's new policy of rendition, and endured ten months of torture and abuse at the hands of Syrian captors, imprisoned under deplorable conditions and forced to make false confessions. This is what torture leads to: good and innocent men making false statements –any statement-- to make it stop.
This was no aberration (if ONLY it were an isolated case). There are countless other examples, more everyday, some of which I am more intimately familiar than others. Brandon Mayfield, a family law attorney here in Portland, is a good man, and honest man, and perhaps most importantly, an innocent man. He was erroneously linked to the attacks on Madrid in 2004, resulting in his family home being servailed and secretly searched, and ultimately to his being spirited away and held for 19 days. Mayfield was never charged, and an FBI internal review later acknowledged serious errors in their investigation.
Over the course of those 19 days, during which his family did not know where he was or how to assist his legal defense, Mayfield experienced the nightmare of an innocent man ensnared in a capital offense by seemingly conclusive (though completely false) evidence. He and his family will never get those three weeks back, nor has their life returned to what it once was.
In these dark days, the very fabric of our society has been catastrophically altered. In the climate of fear that the "war on terrorism" engenders, the response of government to theoretical threats can wreak every bit as much havoc on the innocent who become victims of its of its counter-terrorism tactics, as the "terrorists" themselves. In the case of rolling back rights, governments can do the kind of harm no terrorist could ever hope to accomplish.
Just ask Brandon;s children.
In the most recent Xmen film there is a quote: "The whole world's going to hell, you gonna just sit there?" perhaps there will yet be Patriots who raise to the challenge of reclaiming both the title, and this country, from the fascists. Liberators who will indeed be greeted with roses and cheers. Perhaps there is yet hope for some rag-tag band of super heroes to rise up in the name of freedom, there have been such heros in the past, those who understood that we can not defend democracy abroad while abandoning at home, and had the courage to say so. Perhaps my grief is premature.