Ten years. It is an curious number. For most citizens of the US, something that happened ten years ago is “history;” that is, it happened so long ago as to be irrelevant. But for someone who lives and breaths the historical narrative, ten years past is current events.
So what to make of the ten years since September 11, 2001 and now? Anniversaries are always fraught. Anniversaries that fall on a Sunday, when there is little else to divert our attention, are even more drenched with melodrama. There are important considerations that should be reviewed a decade after 9/11/01; unfortunately they are getting drowned out by maudlin overacting by the usual suspects. It will be an extended wallow in schlock journalism, long on sloppy heart tugging, short on substance. This is a shame because we really do need to look how 9/11/01 allowed bad actors to change our nation for the worse. By exploiting September 11, 2001, these bad actors were able to pass a slew of laws that stripped away many civil rights. For years the Police State enthusiasts were proposing changes in statues that shredded the protections of the 4th , 5th , 6th, 7th, and 8th Amendments of the constitution. By using fear, Dead Eye Dick Cheney and incurious George set up a new Union, conceived in authoritarianism, and dedicated to proposition that the President of the US is an elected king; a king with more power and less accountability than Louis XIV, the Sun King.
With these new powers, Dick And George went on a not-so excellent adventure of breaking and entry (sneak and peek, warrantless wiretapping, FISA,) perjury (the case for the Iraq War), kidnapping (extraordinary rendition), assault and battery (enhanced interrogation / torture), and murder (the Iraq War.) What is even more galling is that not only were the duo of Bush and Cheney never held accountable for their rampant lawlessness; their policies were continued and “normalized” by the next President.
I wonder if any of the numerous remembrances of 9/11/01 will ever get around to mentioning how the tragedy was used to pervert the very essence of what the US stands for?
Before our nation was even a nation, George Washington made it clear that torture was not acceptable. This was a huge statement of moral and ethical substance. The nation that was not born yet, that was, in fact, desperately fighting for its very existence, refused to accept the standards of the day. Washington was going to show not only the British, but the whole of Europe, that a higher standard of ethics was not only possible, but was going to be part of the warp and woof of the nation he and others proposed to create. For over 200 hundred years the US stood by the standard that Washington set. Even in the Hobbesian struggle that was WWII, the US refused to allow torture to become standard military policy.
That record was tossed away like rotten garbage after 9/11/2001. What was once done on an ad hoc basis, and only in dire need, became set policy. Persons with only the most tangental connections to the hijackers were whisked away to foreign lands to be abused, beaten, tortured, and broken. Sometimes these peoples only connection was to be in wrong place at the wrong time. Often, they were just ratted out by people holding a grudge against them. Time after time, interrogators found out that supposed “high value targets,” were just poor shlubs, who had no connections what-so-ever with any terrorist organization. Sometimes these people died in captivity because no jailor wanted to admit that they had made a grievous error.
Some may try to excuse the Cheney-Bush-Obama torture regime by claiming that 9/11 changed everything. In way they are correct. 9/11/01 changed the level of degradation, corruption, perversion, and degeneration ordinary US citizens permitted in their government. We drank deep from the waters of fear, brutishness, ignorance, and folly. We allowed our Democracy to degrade further into an unaccountable authoritarianism. We covered ourselves with shame. How do we reverse this? How do we find our democratic soul again? How do we do follow Washington again, instead of mau-mauing him?
There are no easy answers. In point of fact,we got in this mess by accepting facile answers to difficult problems. Far too many tried to cover their fear by the pretense of being “hard boiled,” “tough,” and “unsentimental.” Cowards torture; fools torture; knaves defend torture; bullies revel in the vicarious thrill of knowing we torture. But even worse are the human jellyfish that allow torture to continue because they don’t want to deal with the political blow-back that returning to our former humane standards would incur. Nothing points out the deterioration of our political class than when a Constitutional scholar and law professor continues the barbaric policy of his predecessor out of political convenience and cowardice.
For Barack Obama, the Constitution is an intellectual play thing. It is debating tool and utterly plastic in its meaning. By seeing all sides of a Constitutional issue, Obama accepts none. Obama’s brilliant mind can alway find a justification for the most heinous and unconstitutional of acts. Thus, the Constitutional Law Professor is shipping out “high value targets” to the tender mercies of Somali guards at black site gulags in Mogadishu. Not to worry, it is all out-sourced by the CIA, so it really doesn’t count. Besides, Barack is much more careful about the people who get sucked into these prisons to be horrifically abused, honest injun.
That is the depressing state of affairs ten years after 9/11/2001. I again wonder if anyone will bother to mention how deep we have drifted into the rabbit hole. It is possible that when Freedom Tower is finally completed, it will be a ironic marker in how much freedom we have lost. OBL may be resting with the fishes, but his dark legacy lives on.