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Charles Cutter

Osama's Gift to America
By Charles Cutter (www.cuttersway.com)
May 6, 2005 - 8:39:00 AM

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Osama bin Laden may be a hateful religious zealot and an accessory to mass murder, but you’ve got to give him credit for one thing - he was successful in shattering the façade of America’s self-flattering idealism. He may have instigated the deaths of over 3,000 people on September 11, 2001 - but the horrors of that day are minor compared to the damage we’ve since inflicted on ourselves as a country.

In the guise of self-defense, we’ve become a barbaric nation that condones and conducts the torture of helpless prisoners.

From the New York Times (3/8/05): "One of the biggest nonsecrets in Washington these days is the Central Intelligence Agency’s top-secret program for sending terrorism suspects to countries where concern for human rights and the rule of law don’t post obstacles to torturing prisoners…[T]he C.I.A. has flown 100 to 150 suspected terrorists to countries like Egypt,Syria, Saudia Arabia, Jordan and Pakistan - each a habitual offender when it comes to torture…The Bush administration has long since made it clear that it will tolerate torture, even by men and women in American uniforms…"

The process described above has been termed "extraordinary rendition." Combine that with the catalogue of abuses from Afghanistan, Iraq and our military base in Cuba, and we’re forced to confront a broad governmental policy allowing - encouraging - the practice of torture.

None of this was a secret before the 2004 election, and none of it seemed to matter very much. Denying gay rights seemed vastly more important than protecting the most basic human rights.

So who can blame the general news media for considering torture a non-story?

Counting both questions and answers, there were almost 10,000 words spoken during George W. Bush’s April 28 press conference; none of them concerned the prisoner abuse inflicted by American personnel at Abu Ghraib or Guantanamo Bay. The word "torture" was used only four times - and only by Mr. Bush, not by any reporters. Once was to condemn Saddam Hussein’s "torture chambers." The other three times it was to deny that America was engaged in an international conspiracy of torture - and Mr. Bush put forth his weak defense without even being asked, specifically, about the issue.

The question itself was actually pretty tame: "Under the law, how would you justify the practice of renditioning, where U.S. agents who bust terror suspects abroad, taking them to a third world country for interrogation? And would you stand for it if foreign agents did that to an American here?"

Mr. Bush refused to answer the second question because it was "hypothetical." As for the first part, he simply reiterated what he’s said in the past-"We operate within the law, and we send people to countries where they say they’re not going to torture people." (Emphasis added.)

To rebut this assertion, let’s turn to an editorial in the March 11 Los Angeles Times: "U.S. law and international conventions bar sending prisoners to another nation unless there are strong assurances of humane treatment. The CIA says with a straight face that it gets those assurances before delivering suspects to jailers in Egypt, Syria, Saudia Arabia…countries that have such abysmal human rights records that promises of decent treatment are a joke."

America has certainly turned some dark pages in its history book, from slavery to the slaughter of Native Americans; from the Spanish-American War to Hiroshima; from unpunished racial killings to the token sentence given Lt. Calley for the 1968 My Lai massacre.

Still, every generation has the right to be judged by its own actions.

In our time we have Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo Bay, "extraordinary rendition." Our government has made us all parties to illegal war, torture, and murder. By permitting this, we deserve the harsh judgment of history.

This is being written as Holocaust Remembrance Day comes to a close. It’s a day intended not only to remind us of the horrors of the Holocaust, but to encourage us to learn from the past - to resist the conditions that would allow it to happen again.

It’s a lesson we haven’t learned.


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