I’ve had my doubts about America’s track record in human rights and heavy handedness in foreign policy in the last ten years, but two things drove me over the edge last night. Between 2001 and 2011, we have been subject to the violence of terrorism, waged two wars (one of which is supposedly soon to be ending) and we now have the populist movement of Occupy in our cities. I had these thoughts in the back of my head last night, when I received a shock to my personal perceptions of America, its role in the world, and how we conduct ourselves.
At around 5 o’clock in the midst of checking my e-mail, I came across the footage that has spilled onto the internet of members of Occupy Oakland being shot with rubber bullets and tear gas. In one incidence, a crowd trying to come to the aid of a protester who was intentionally shot in the face with a canister of tear gas was disbanded by a police officer dropping a flash-bang grenade directly in the middle of them. This is not crowd control. This is unchecked violence and needs to stop, now. There has not been a single video posted to confirm claims made by the police of excessive violence made by protesters.
Further, it turns out the man who had been shot was Scott Olsen, a marine who had served two tours in Iraq.
I later attended a screening hosted by the University of San Diego’s chapter of Amnesty International of the film The Road to Guantanamo, the sourness of my reaction to the police’s actions at Occupy Oakland still fresh in my mind. The film chronicles the stories of three British citizens of Pakistani descent who were captured and illegitimately tortured at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba at the U.S. bases of Camp X-Ray and Camp Delta. While in Cuba, they were kept chained, forced to defecate on themselves, and heavy metal blasted 24/7 with strobe lights. (*Note: the Seton Hall Guantanamo reports can be found at the bottom)
When did torture become an acceptable means of obtaining information in the United States? Turns out, it has been for a while.
If we draw the distinction between ourselves and the people we tortured down in Guantanamo, are we not as or more brutal than the very people we claim to be trying to bring to justice?
It was then I realized that we, as Americans have to come to terms with this. How can our country who declared, and I quote the Declaration of Independence:
“all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”
Many are unaware that the during the early years of the Bush administration in 2001, the U.S. altered laws to allow us become a “culture of torture,” removing ourselves from being subject to international laws such as the Geneva convention which are aimed at creating an equitable
We need to ask ourselves not only what torture subjects the people we carry it out on, but how is it affecting us as a country?
It seems as though we have lost our way. We no longer uphold some of the most critical values and laws that our country was founded upon; those that preserve our personal freedom and ability to voice change without fear of violence. We’ve adjusted the section of the Declaration that “all men are created equal…and are endowed certain inalienable rights” to not only exclude non-Americans who have neither been charged nor convicted of crimes–it now seems to apply to Americans who are expressing their personal freedoms that are supposed to be safeguarded at all costs.
Would you like to have a bag duct-taped on your head, ears muffed, blackened goggles over the bag, chained and shackled, flown to a foreign location and then tortured for multiple years, only for the torturers to discover you weren’t what they assumed you were? I know I wouldn’t.
Or how about Scott Olsen, a marine who dutifully served his country in war for two tours, only to come home and express his own rights–rights he paid a higher price for in the first place than many–and be shot in the face with tear gas by a belligerent police officer
With the recent conviction of former Goldman Sachs director Rajat Gupta of insider trading, its clear that unchecked corporate greed is beginning to come under the hot seat. But this is more than just about where the money is. People are demonstrating their dissatisfaction with the current structure of power which has utilized torture and tear gas, and in doing so are coming together.
The last ten years have been tumultuous. Regardless, if we continue to claim to be or be known as “the leaders of the free world,” we need to analyze what that really means to play that role as a nation, and live in a country with that title as citizens. Further, fear of speaking out against such injustices is one of our biggest enemies.
We can positively change the world, but we first need to ask the difficult question of how can we change ourselves for the better.
Some further reads/action:
“The Torture Memos from the Bush Admin.” (From the Guardian UK)