Tuesday, March 15, 2005

Freedom part I: Freedom and 9/11

There is a lot of talk these days about freedom, and there is an underlying assumption that freedom is the natural, number one desire of humans. We all like to think so. But is freedom really the number one concern of people?

The events and aftermath of 9/11 showed that in this country, the Land of the Free & the Home of the Brave, people are willing to give up freedom in exchange for security. As soon as people felt threatened and scared for their safety, concern for civil liberties and rights went right out the window. Of course, some people were concerned right off the bat about the erosion of rights, but they were widely dismissed as, at best, misguided and naïve, and at worst, aiding the terrorists.

We were reminded of Ben Franklin’s saying “those who would sacrifice essential liberties for a little temporary security deserve neither liberty nor safety” but nobody really paid attention. “Irrelevent” they cried, “the world changed on 9/11!”

The USA PATRIOT act was passed without having been read, people were swept up and detained without charges, and there was little outcry. Domestic spying was considered a necessary step in the fight against terrorists. The Administration told us that they needed to keep secrets from us for our safety. Over the next few years, more erosion of civil liberties and rights occurred. Barbed wire cages, miles from the political conventions and WTO meetings were set up and called “free speech zones” in the name of security. And the American people said “do anything you have to, to protect us!”

We invaded Afghanistan and killed many innocent civilians in the process. This was seen as regrettable, but we didn’t mean to kill them, unlike the people who killed our civilians. I am sure that made all the difference to the man burying his family in Kandahar. We captured many, but not Osama bin Laden or Mullah Omar. Rights and treaties were deemed inapplicable or “quaint” and it was anything goes, as long as it was said to be in the interests of protecting Americans.

Now, at this point, many said “those are the fuckers who attacked us, you can’t torture them enough!” I can understand that sentiment. However, how do we know that they’re guilty? Many of the people caught up in the sweeps in Afghanistan were in the wrong place at the wrong time (like their homes). There were bounties offered on any Taliban or Al-Qaeda fighters. And, guess what happened? People started turning people in for a few dollars, whether or not they actually had anything to do with those organizations. We were told that the worst of the worst were the only ones being detained, but that turned out not to be the case. Due process was devised exactly because this is the sort of thing that happens.

Then, the White House started telling us what a grave and imminent threat Iraq was, and the refrain from the American people was “do anything you need to, to keep us safe!” Then, we invaded Iraq. More prisoners were taken. Abu Ghraib was reopened under new management, and it was filled to the brim with all kinds: some criminals, some terrorists, and a whole lot of innocent people. Torture was used widely (don’t believe the “few bad apples” crap, it’s bullshit), children were stripped and degraded in front of their parents, and there were many other abuses, the full depravity of which we have not been told.

“For shame!” some people cried. But all moral arguments fell on deaf ears. The only argument that got any traction was, “if we torture our prisoners, then they’ll torture theirs.” To this, the reply was, “they’d do it anyway.” Then, it was explained that what we were doing wasn’t really torture, and if some people went overboard, it wasn’t our policy and the guilty parties would be punished. Everyone felt better then. Everyone back home in the USA, that is.

Now, lest anybody think that I’m a pacifist, I think we should’ve taken out the Taliban when they were getting ready to blow up the big stone Buddhas. (Fuckers!) We also should have taken out bin Laden when Clinton wanted to, but the cry from the Republicans at the time was “it’s ‘Wag the Dog’! No war for Monica!” They didn’t want to do anything that Clinton did, and that included fighting Al-Qaeda when they got the hand-off in January 2001.

So, we are happy to give up freedom if it means safety. The difficulty is… freedom is really hard to get back.


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