The SanityPrompt

This blog represents some small and occasional efforts to add a note of sanity to discussions of politics and policy. This blog best viewed with Internet Explorer @ 1024x768

Saturday, February 26, 2005

They Ought to Be Ashamed

That is if they had a capacity for shame.

I am an American. I am proud of my country and proud of what it means to be an American. Proud of the principles my country stands for and of its continuing capacity to improve on the promise of this nation, to improve on the noble vision of a free people who govern themselves while enshrining the rights of minorities and individuals from the tyranny of the majority.

But they made me ashamed when they announced that they could declare anyone, American or not, an enemy combatant and imprison them indefinitely without recourse to a lawyer. They made me ashamed when they put Colin Powell before the UN to trumpet the evidence for war, showing all the support for their claims that Saddam had a large program of weapons of mass destruction that posed an imminent threat to the US -- only to conclude a few years later that there was no program and no imminent threat. Just a capacity to pose an imminent threat at some future point in time. They made me ashamed when the stories of mistreatment from Abu Ghraib and Guantanimo Bay emerged. Ashamed when the official Justice Department memos emerged, penned by our own Attorney General today, justifying such actions as torture. I am embarrassed at their re-election. Embarrassed at their cavalier attitude towards the truth, towards the opinion of the rest of the world, towards their obligation to provide some reasonable justification for initiating hostilities with another country. Embarrassed at the profligacy of policies that grant huge tax breaks to the wealthy while running up billions of dollars in debt that our children will have to repay.

But never have I felt so ashamed of my country as this. Bob Herbert in yesterday’s New York Times discusses the story of Maher Arar. He was traveling back to Canada from Tunisia when he was plucked off a plane at JFK while in transfer within the US. He was imprisoned with no charges and then shipped to Jordan and then Syria. While there he was thrown into a rat infested cell no larger than a ‘grave’ where he was tortured and beaten repeatedly until the Syrians concluded he had no ties to Al Qaeda. The US government still maintains he is a dangerous threat to the United States, although the original charges arose from a tip of the Canadian Mounted Police that turned out to be entirely erroneous. As a Canadian official is quoted as saying -- "accidents will happen." This US policy, called ‘extraordinary rendition," should give anyone who is an American pause, anyone who argues that our country is so great because we stand for freedom and protection of the rights of the individual. The reason we have rights, freedom and rules to protect individuals is not so we can feel good about ourselves or so that we can trumpet how free we are. They stand to protect each of us from excessive government power that can be used capriciously and erroneously. It’s bad enough that the Government never felt it necessary to make clear what crimes Mr. Arar was charged with. That they intentionally sent him to a country that sanctions torture in order to find out what he might know violates everything this country is supposed to stand for.

Arar has filed suit against the US for his treatment. Our government’s response? "…None of Mr. Arar's claims can even be adjudicated because they "would involve the revelation of state secrets.""

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