Ten years ago on September 11, 2001, the United States suffered the worst terrorist attack in the nation’s history. In the panic of the weeks that followed, the American government began changing its counterterrorism policies in ways that undermined constitutionally guaranteed civil liberties, culminating in the passage of the USA PATRIOT Act on October 26, 2001. Within two weeks of that law’s passage, on November 10, 2001, organizers in Massachusetts founded the Bill of Rights Defense Committee to fight against that dangerous law and others that followed. To mark the tenth anniversary of these pivotal events in American history and the history of our organization itself, the Bill of Rights Defense Committee is running a series of articles looking back on the last ten years. This post is part of that series.
On September 11, 2001, America fell down a rabbit hole. Ten years later, we are deeply entrenched in an Alice-in-Wonderland world, where up is down and black is white—where acts of evil lead to other acts of evil, which come disguised as acts of good and are justified with false logic. Case in point: since 9/11, our government claims that it protects us by practicing torture. The defenders of torture, as Mother Jones magazine states “want it both ways: They want to insist that torturing detainees was necessary to effectively interrogate them but that waterboarding isn’t torture.”
Perform a Google search for “government torture” during the 1990s and watch news articles about torture in other countries (Mexico, Chile, etc.) appear. These mostly Third World governments were criticized worldwide for their atrocious violations of basic human rights. Change the search criteria to the years from 2002 on, and articles about US government torture dominate the list.
This is our post-9/11 “wonderland,” a place where, in the space of three months during 2007, President George W. Bush declared, “This government does not torture people,” and a CIA interrogator reported that he supervised the “necessary” torture of al-Qaeda’s Abu Zubaydah. Torture is part of American culture now, with its acceptance mirrored in the attitudes of those who applaud the death penalty and the imminent death of people who do not have health insurance. For the 9/11 generation, the children born into this topsy-turvy world, torture isn’t even torture; it’s enhanced interrogation. It’s as normal to most Americans as taking your shoes off before you can get on a plane.
Each year, we hear the names of those who died on 9/11 read with solemn reverence, as they should be. But we never hear anyone read the names of those who have been tortured, by our government, in our name. Instead, “former Vice President Cheney feels confident enough to take credit for his role in torture.” The Human Rights Watch report titled “Getting Away with Torture” states, “when a government as dominant and influential as the United States openly defies laws against torture, it virtually invites others to do the same.” And, indeed, we are living among mad queens who feel justified in proclaiming “Off with their heads!” May the next ten years bring us out of this rabbit hole and back up into the clear light of day.