I wish to first make clear that in no way should the thoughts and questions posed in this writing be construed as sympathy for Osama bin Laden - I do not lament his passing nor the elimination of any other individual or group found guilty of being responsible for heinous acts of terrorism as were characteristic of bin Laden and his followers. I do however lament the slow but steady demise of American exceptionalism and her once-legitimate claim to the moral high ground. Though I am not so naive as to believe that
After the events of September 11th, 2001 a number of new counterterrorism policies were instituted as well as some significant military engagements undertaken. All of the policies and actions initiated following this tragic event would later be defined as crucial components of the “War on Terror”. Here’s the problem with the WoT: you can’t declare war on a tactic used by a small and disparate number of people all over the globe. The very nature of the WoT, with its lack of borders, goals, timeframes and oversight mechanisms, virtually guaranteed that rampant abuses of civil rights and basic human decency would ensue. Accordingly, we soon saw such egregious violations of human rights as extraordinary rendition, the use of torture as an interrogatory tool, indefinite detention without access to legal counsel or due process of law, warrantless wiretapping of domestic and foreign citizens and the list of travesties is nearly endless. Suffice to say that the WoT provided the impetus for a new generation of abusive and morally bankrupt policies and practices through which U.S. standing in the international circuit and her purported role as “moral police” and freedom’s champion were rendered dubious at best and outright fallacious in the eyes of many.
What strikes me as most disturbing about these trends is the complacency and complicity of we the citizens – we literally stood by and watched (there were of course many ardent opponents of the WoT policies) and even emboldened policymakers as our ideals and entire moral code were trampled and denigrated beyond recognition. How were we to admonish the strong-man dictators of developing nations about the virtues of the rule of law when we were disregarding our own? In what way were we (are we) still qualified to lecture the leaders of brutal regimes in Africa or
The notion of patriotism has been a contentious concept for the entirety of our nationhood. Even as far back as the founding generation during which there were debates over what constituted “patriotism” and who, either the Federalists or the Republicans, best embodied the patriotic ethos. Mark Twain once said: “Patriotism is supporting your country all the time, and your government when it deserves it.” I wholeheartedly agree with this assessment of the rather amorphous concept and I would even agree with the oft-repeated axiom that “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism.” If you meld these two thoughts then you have arrived at where I stand on the patriotism definition scale: my opposition to what I view as un-American WoT policies stems from a deeply rooted sense of pride and affection for ideals and principles that used to be almost singularly American. The inalienable rights and truths of freedom and democracy, fairness and due process, compassion and decency – all of these philosophical abstractions resonate in tangible acts of altruism throughout American history. Those of us who stood and continue to stand up against rendition and assassination, indefinite detention and suspension of habeas corpus are not less American or less patriotic for it; in fact, I would contend that we are more American and patriotic than those who stand idly by and allow our moral and philosophical foundation to be compromised.
I will now bring the post full-circle back to the original topic of Osama bin Laden’s death and the broader, tangential consequences beyond just killing the most-wanted terrorist in the world. I have been wondering what might have happened if the shoe had been on the other foot so to speak – namely, what if Pakistan (or any other country for that matter) had conducted a covert military operation in which they crossed our borders without authorization and assassinated someone residing here. I think it is safe to say that there would be hell to pay. Of course the new power and latitude granted to the
Despite all of the tangible and abstract sacrifices made under the guise of fighting the “War on Terror”, are we safer today than we would have been otherwise? There is significant evidence that images of detainees from Guantanamo Bay and other detention facilities have been used successfully as recruitment tools for extremist and terrorist groups who would be the most likely to attack America again. Human rights organizations and foreign leaders have expressed dissatisfaction with American conduct throughout the duration of the WoT for the reasons listed above and many others as well. The domestic outcry against these policies and practices is equally as ardent, though surely contained within smaller subsections of the larger American populace. The question still remains as to
As long as the WoT perpetuates itself, with all of its discontinuities, disconnects and dysfunctions, the struggle to regain diplomatic and ideological primacy for