On September 11th, we remember all of the tragic loss of life from the 2001 terrorist attacks at the World Trade Center, Pentagon and Flight 93. We also celebrate and mourn all of those who responded to the tragedy and many who lost their lives trying to save others and still more who have lingering health issues due to their bravery. They are heroes and lost innocents, and our country has done very well by serving their memory each year.
In the aftermath of the attacks, President Bush detailed that if we changed our way of life, if we altered our celebration of freedom and human rights … then the terrorists will have won. The thought process is that it isn’t enough to go after those who launched the attacks, but we must remain true to the America of the pre-9/11 days.
Since writing for Gear Diary, I have detailed many issues that sadly show ways in which we have changed in ways that are NOT about freedom and human rights. We now have laws that allow unlimited detention of US citizens without charge, wire-tapping and movement-tracking without cause or court-order, and an assumption of guilt when refusing non-legislated search and seizure by officials at airports and elsewhere.
This past week we also learned about a Rights Watch investigation that has learned about a much broader use of torture and waterboarding than previously admitted or known. Here is some of the report:
The 154-page report features interviews by the New York-based group with 14 Libyan dissident exiles. They describe systematic abuses while they were held in U.S.-led detention centers in Afghanistan — some as long as two years — or in U.S.-led interrogations in Pakistan, Morocco, Thailand, Sudan and elsewhere before the Americans handed them over to Libya.
The 14 Libyans interviewed by Human Rights Watch were swept up in the American hunt for Islamic militants and al-Qaida figures around the world after the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks. They were mostly members of the anti-Gadhafi Libyan Islamic Fighting Group who fled in the 1980s and 1990s to Pakistan, Afghanistan and African countries. The group ran training camps in Afghanistan at the same time al-Qaida was based there but it largely shunned Osama bin Laden and his campaign against the United States, focusing instead on fighting Gadhafi.
Ironically, the U.S. turned around and helped the Libyan opposition overthrow Gadhafi in 2011. Now several of the 14 former detainees hold positions in the new Libyan government.
The accounts of new uses of simulated drowning came from two former detainees, Mohammed al-Shoroeiya and Khaled al-Sharif, who also described a gamut of abuses they went through. The two were seized in Pakistan in April 2003 and taken to U.S.-run prisons in Afghanistan, where al-Shoroeiya was held for 16 months and al-Sharif for two years before they were handed over to Libya.
In Afghanistan, they were shackled in cells for months in variety of positions, often naked in almost total darkness with music blaring continuously, left to defecate and urinate on themselves. For example, al-Sharif spent three weeks seated on the ground in his cell with his ankles and wrists chained to a ring in the wall, forcing him to keep his arms and legs elevated. He said he was taken out of his shackles once a day for a half-hour to eat.
For me one of the worst things was reading a quote from one of the soldiers detaining one of the Libyans:
“Now you are under the custody of the United States of America. In this place there will be no human rights. Since September 11, we have forgotten about something called human rights,”
I know the opposing view – our soldiers (and civilians) were (and are) treated more brutally, with public beheadings over the internet as a chilling memory; also, many feel that if torturing someone saves innocent (specifically American) lives, then it is immediately justified; overall there is very much a ‘they are doing it, so should we’ attitude in many comments on articles discussing the report.
I believe in the America that is above torture; the America that believes in innocence until proven guilty; in the America where protection of individuals against unconstitutional actions from their government trumps so-called ‘litmus test’ politics.
I believe in the America we lived in before 9/11. And while the loss and violation is such that we can never truly go back, we must work hard to ensure that in preventing such actions from happening again that we don’t become the monsters we hope to destroy.