Thursday, September 10, 2015

911 - Wrong Lessons Learned


Well, tomorrow is September 11 and there are lots of "Never Forget" posts on Facebook. And, of course, we never will forget the 911 attacks because they were tragic and heartbreaking and stunning. They revealed how heroic everyday Americans can be, especially police officers and firemen and EMTs and construction workers and airplane passengers and just regular people who postponed their own lives and faced danger to help in any way they could.

Sadly, though, in a larger sense, 911 also revealed that, collectively, we are hardly the land of the free and the home of the brave, as we always proudly declare, rather, we willingly traded principles for security and bravery for fearfulness.

We created a Department of Homeland (a word I despise) Security - uber-expensive, blackly covert, mega-powerful and unaccountable. Do you know what all the DHS does? Nope, me neither and they make sure we never will.

Here's a hint though. They are working on a project called FAST, the Future Attribute Screening Technology because...terrorism. FAST will remotely monitor physiological and behavioral cues, like elevated heart rate, eye movement, body temperature, facial patterns, and body language, and analyze these cues algorithmically for statistical aberrance in an attempt to identify people with nefarious intentions. Predictive crime prevention - what could possibly go wrong? How do you prove your innocence when FAST accuses you of a crime you going to commit in the future?

After 911, we passed the Patriot Act (complete name: "Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism Act of 2001" about a wide umbrella.

Title V was one of the most controversial aspects of the Patriot Act. Title V dealt with National Security Letters, which were administrative subpoenas used by the FBI and probably other government agencies. A NSL is a demand issued to an organization to turn over data relating to an individual. They required no probable cause or judicial oversight. In addition, they contained a "gag order, preventing the recipient from revealing that the letter was ever issued.

Fortunately, the ACLU filed suit and the courts found that NSLs were unconstitutional but the American people, as a whole were unaware of what their government was doing...and probably didn't care because we are less than concerned about government over-reach. "Just keep as safe. We'll pay any price in liberty" seems to be our mindset.

Elements of the Patriot Act were scheduled to sunset, and a few did, but gee, mostly Congress just couldn't bring themselves to give it up.

Pre-911, America's reputation was rather that of the world's moral arbiter. We stood firm (well, mostly) for civil rights and equality and justice. We signed on to the United Nations Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which not only required that we not torture people ourselves but we not send prisoners to other countries where they would likely be tortured. You know, like extreme rendition.

Then WE were attacked and all that high-flown moral stuff went right out the window. We could no longer afford to be honorable. So....extreme rendition and Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo. We slid into the black hole of shame - waterboarding and rubbing feces on people and leading them around naked by dog collars and making them stand on boxes with their genitals wired for shock. Not only did we allow and/or encourage our soldiers to do such things, they actually seemed to enjoy it.

We threw people into Guantanamo because someone said (and surely no one would have been swayed by the $5,000 bounty the U.S. paid) that they'd engaged in terrorist acts. We didn't know for sure if it was true but what the heck, better safe than sorry, right? We didn't accuse them of any particular crime, just a sort of amorphous allegation of wrong-doing. Out of the original 780 detainees, military tribunals have convicted eight of them. Hell of a success rate, isn't it? Detainee...don't you love that word? they aren't exactly convicts or inmates or prisoners....just detainees. There's charges, no trial, no sentence, no out date, no resolution. Many of them have been cleared by a commission to be released but we haven't released them. So much for our much-vaunted Rule of Law. No right to face your accuser. No right to know exactly what crime you're accused of. No speedy - or even un-speedy trial, no habeas corpus.

And we hate these guys so much that when, in desperation, they try to starve themselves to death, we stick a tube down their throat and force food down them to keep them alive. America the Merciful.

President Obama wants to close Guantanamo. For one thing, it costs about a $1,000,000 annually per prisoner to hold people there versus about $30,000 in a federal prison but here in the "home of the brave", we are afraid to so much as allow them on our soil 'cause, you know, they are just so dangerous and scary. Geez, how gutless is that?

Many of us turned on all Muslims. Can't trust any of those rag heads, sand jockeys and those are the nicest descriptors. We were outraged that they'd dare to put a mosque anywhere close to Ground Zero....sort a "kill them all and let God sort them out" mentality.

We went to two wars because of 911. In the first, Afghanistan, we were there to try to get the perpetrators. Okay, that is a valid reason but 15 years later, Osama bin Laden is dead and al Qaeda is scattered across the middle east....but we are still in America's longest war. Does anyone know why?

And our second war, Iraq, was a farce from Day One. It was based on lies and secret agendas and revenge and oil and egos. And, despite George W standing on a aircraft carrier with a Mission Accomplished banner across his head, it was a disaster and the mission, whatever it was supposed to be, was never accomplished. This after ten years and trillions of dollars and tens of thousands of lives lost and we are still there too, facing an even deadlier enemy that we created ourselves in ISIS. And we're left with many more thousands of grievously injured warriors who will need care for least, those who don't commit suicide.

So, no, I will never forget 911. I will remember the actions of the valiant but I will also remember how badly we failed this horrendous test. We are less free and less brave and less honorable now. I guess that's what the terrorists were hoping for.

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