Tuesday, December 30, 2008

America's Shadow Side

One of the best books I have read lately is Jane Mayer's, The Dark Side. In this book she outlines how we slowly began to embrace torture as the stated policy for our country. The subtitle of her books states her thesis: "The inside story of how the war on terror turned into a war on American ideals."

Following September 11th our whole country was gripped in fear. Never in our history have we been attacked as we were that sad day. In a fever of fear and anxiety, followed by Anthrax scares, constant Orange alerts our national leaders responded with a new plan to combat our enemies. If we could squeeze information out of those captured our country would be safe from attacks.

In that climate of fear and chaos, secret decisions were made at the highest levels of our government. Their conclusions took us down a road we have walked down only infrequently in our history. In fairness to the Bush administration the author points out that Lincoln's suspension of habeas corpus during the Civil War, Roosevelt's imprisonment of Americans of Japanese descent during World War II seriously compromised our values. To these dark chapters we could also add the nation's cruelty toward Native Americans and African-Americans. The historian, Arthur Schlesinger, said of the Bush policy on torture: "No position taken has done more damage to our American reputation in the world--ever."These new actions were a dramatic break from the past. In 1775 when America was waging a war for independence against Britain, George Washington said that this new land would not follow the example of England at that time. "Treat (the enemy) with humanity, and let them have no reason to complain of our copying the brutal example of the British army in their treatment of our unfortunate brethren...Provide everything necessary for them on the road."

Since 9/11 we have turned away from the humane treatment of alleged terrorists. Mayer takes us through the horrors of rendition. Capturing suspected terrorists and shipping them to countries where unbelievable torture has been meted out hoping we could obtain information that would help us win this war on terrorism.

The author writes of Guantanamo and Abu Gharib when our government declared that we did not need to follow the Geneva Convention. Almost every country in the world has subscribed to the treatment of the enemy. "No physical or mental torture nor any other form of coercion may be inflicted on prisoners of war to secure from them information of any kind whatsoever." Since 1949 even in the most trying of times every Republican and Democratic administration has respected human rights of all. There have been lapses of course, yet the stance of this country had been clear. Even as late as March 16, 2005 President Bush said in a press conference: "This country does not believe in torture." Even as he spoke over 3,000 prisoners had already been rounded up and tortured unmercifully, some even to the point of insanity and death.

There were many in our government that protested these actions. But these patriots were passed over for promotions, quietly moved out of government positions or summarily ignored.

Read the book for yourself. Jane Mayer is a competent writer. She served as a Senior writer and front-page editor for the Wall Street Journal. She now is a Washington based staff writer for The New Yorker.

She writes that seven years has passed since 9/11. Yet the counter terrorism policies of the Bush administration remain in place. It might be well to put down this book beside those haunting words of Frederick Nietzsche. He said,"He who does battle with monsters needs to watch out lest he in the process becomes a monster himself."

It is my hope that this courageous book will give Americans much to ponder as we move into a new year and a new administration. Only those who embrace their shadow side can find health and healing from the past.

Two movies have recently told this painful story. They are not for the squeamish.
1) "Rendition"; 2) "Taxi on the Dark Side".

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