Jumping the Ship of Freedom

Torture Museum 4506

Torture Museum 4506 (Photo credit: sandeep thukral)

So far, this past week, I have been pleasantly surprised that a majority of the rhetoric, both in the media and on my Facebook newsfeed, has come down on the side of respecting due process in the case of the Boston Marathon Bombing. People want to see a trial, even after finding out that the suspects, both alive and dead, are Muslim. We are not quite as ready to submit to the loss of civil liberties, the loss of privacy, and more importantly the loss of the best parts of our national identity, that we were 11 and a half years ago.

Those voices are out there, however, the ones that want to throw away any notion of civil justice to avenge the death and injury inflicted in Boston. Some of them are merely still in shock. Their grief and rage want release. Some really believe the best way to provide our security is to give up freedoms. A few cynically take advantage of the others’ worry and doubt and push for greater power for themselves, or for those leaders who they approve of. They ride the wave of anger to higher ratings on their radio and cable TV shows, advocating actions that cut against the grain of the best parts of our society.

These people believe it is OK to torture (and  make no mistake, water-boarding is torture) to interrogate suspects. Leaving aside that it has been shown, over and again, to lead to unreliable data (most people will say whatever they think their torturer wants to hear, not necessarily the truth.) For two hundred years we told ourselves that we did not approve of it. We said to the world that no matter how great your crime, how much of an enemy you make yourself, there are lines we do not cross. That idea, of course, withers under scrutiny. Look at the history of our treatment of our First Nations brothers and sisters and you can see we tossed those ideas aside when convenient. As a culture though, blind as we were to the actions of our state, we rejected it. After 9/11, though, we seem to have become willing to give in to the worst of our instincts.

The truly frustrating aspect of all this is the willful ignorance of the cost. So many who advocate for torture, or the suspension of due process, live in a bubble in which they have convinced themselves that they are immune to the costs. They believe only “those” people will be affected by warrant-less wiretapping, or searches, or stop-and-frisk, or any number of civil liberty violations.  They honestly believe that they will never find themselves in a position where the authorities will take those rights from them.

We have not yet become, as some on the radical left and right would have you believe, nor are we far down the road to becoming an actual autocratic state. There are hints though. Young people facing federal charges for vandalism, the tepid response to police brutality against protesters the past year and a half, and the occasional slip of the tongue by elected officials suggesting they are your leader, rather than your employee. We have seen our ability to influence our government diluted by the Citizens United ruling that opened the door to corporate rule. In the face of all these events, we cannot be so willing to give up any of our freedoms (and yes, shout out to the GRA, we have to be wary of excessive, though not sensible, gun control.) Dams do not suddenly burst. They spring one little leak that slowly erodes the rest of the structure unseen, until one day the worst happens. We can avoid the worst happening, but not if we give in to our bigotry, fear, and anger and throw away more of our rights.

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