Posted from the US
The latest edition of Rolling Stone has an article by Jeff Tietz called "The Unending Torture of Omar Khadr". It describes the torture, by the US military, of a teenage POW held at Guantanamo Bay.
One can debate the truth content of the story, which is not what I want to do here. One can also point out the horrible crimes, torture, and executions that Al Qaeda and other terrorists groups have carried out against Americans, other Westerners, and even fellow Arabs.
What I want to understand is what is America about? We should not be like other countries. We are supposed to be the good guys that save the day. Cynics and realpolitik folks would argue that America needs to play whatever dirty games it needs to play to survive. I disagree.
America is not just about survival. America is an idea, a good idea, and one that can not be forgotten. It is an idea that should improve with time. While we may face a ruthless, fanatical and brutal enemy - we do not need to become what we are fighting. America is not about a border - it is about a place of freedom and liberty and acting upon the right thing. Fair play. We fight the good fight. We are not everyone else. Have we lived up to those ideals? Have we lost our soul?
Is there a time and place for torture in a country like ours? Is there a time and place for pointless, senseless torture? Is there a time and place for abuses of power?
No. If something smells wrong, is hidden, if it feels wrong - it is wrong. We know right from wrong and no amount of justifying and rationalizing makes wrong right.
We are at war, we are killing terrorists. But when they are captured and held as prisoner - when they will no longer bring us harm - what we do then defines our soul as a country. It is harder to fight with and hate a country that treats its prisoners well. The moral high ground is a true high ground - it is a rallying point for the citizens and the armed forces.
I do not know the truth of the article - it would be good to understand what really happened. But the point of being an American citizen is not to be okay with torture. We should never become comfortable with things that are wrong. We are judged by a higher standard because America is a higher standard. In an open and free society we need to have an open debate and correct the actions of government - they are after all, only people, for the people, and by the people. The government is here to serve us.
I hope that we, the American people, are not okay with torture, and I hope that we, the American people understand the difference between fighting a just and fair war to prevent terrorism and simply abusing our power. Lastly, I hope that we, the American people, understand that it is our collective voice and morality which should drive, shape, and influence our government. We are active drivers, not passive recipients of policy.
Here is my voice: President Bush, we need to fight the war on terror that is waged against our country. But if we are abusing or torturing prisoners, however hateful they may be to us, that needs to stop. That is not why this country exists. We are about being better, being the enlightened, free, open space for the rest of the world to emulate and want to become. That is our mission and please do not forget why we are fighting this war. We will not win by killing every terrorist and Arab who we think is a terrorist. We will win when we defeat the ideas of the terrorists. We will win by winning the hearts and minds of the world by showing them that America is an idea that makes sense, and that fair play, open democracy, and equitable justice above all things are truths we live by and not just say.
Not by might and not by power alone.