Friday, June 10, 2005

Practicing what we Preach

One of those sayings you hear a lot from your parents and others growing up is that we all need to practice what we preach. It's not enough to espouse something unless you are first willing to put it into action in your own life.  Moreover, your commitment to that ideal is tested not in times of comfort, but in times of hardship, criticism and when the easy way out is to abandon it when no one is looking.
Since the first day of the terrorist attacks, the Bush administration has made it abundantly clear that America was attacked because the terrorists hate our freedom, liberty, and democratic ideals. Refusing to concede that the country he governs is at least partially to blame for the attacks themselves, the President continually presses the point that it is the very things that make America great that the terrorists want to destroy.
After sweeping through Afghanistan and Iraq and casting a wide dragnet through other countries sympathetic to terrorism, the United States found itself with hundreds of suspected terrorists in custody. Enter Guantanamo Bay. The perfectly logical and even necessary detention center began (the public thought) as a processing station for detainees to be interrogated and, if necessary, held until trial.  What Guantanamo has instead become is a rancid symbol of the U.S. government's dishonesty and hypocrisy in the so-called war on terrorism. The prison camp has become one of this conflict's most pervasive examples of the price of unaccountable power.
Guantanamo currently incarcerates more than 540 prisoners. Held incommunicado, these men are denied even the most basic aspects of the legal process. Counsel is out of the question.  Conveniently undecided as to whether those held are prisoners of war or terrorist criminals, the Bush administration has put itself above the very laws this country helped to draft, ducking the spirit of the law while priding itself on following the letter of the law. It has refused to honor either the Geneva Conventions for treatment of POWs or the rights granted the accused under U.S. criminal law. Those held at Guantanamo have not been charged with any crime, yet they are serving "indefinite" sentences. If the U.S. is so convinced of their guilt, why is it afraid to prosecute?
The abuse of prisoners at Guantanamo has been long documented by human rights groups.  Amnesty International's recent allegations are nothing new and merely corroborate numerous reports issued since the prison's inception by such internationally credible groups as the Red Cross. Former President Jimmy Carter is calling for the closing of Guantanamo Bay, saying, "The U.S. continues to suffer terrible embarrassment and a blow to our reputation...because of reports concerning abuses of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan, and Guantanamo."
President Bush retorted, calling the allegations "absurd" and those who championed them guilty of "disassembling...that means not telling the truth." Actually Mr. President, "disassembling” means to take apart. “Dissembling” means not telling the truth.  But we knew what you meant. And the fact is, the only dissembling here is originating from the oval office.
It is not enough to insist that our treatment of prisoners is far more humane than that dolled out by our terrorist enemies, as our government has done. If the U.S. is to maintain its now tenuous hold on its place as the world leader and champion for human rights and democracy, its standards must be infinitely higher and either conform to or surpass international norms. It is not enough to tell the world we stand for freedom, democracy, righteousness and justice—we must show them we are free, democratic, righteous and just.
Guantanamo should be closed and the prisoners there charged and tried or released. But that is not enough. For the United States to regain any credibility, it must begin to practice what it preaches in Iraq, in Afghanistan, in Guantanamo, and everywhere else in the world that an American presence is felt.  The erosion of respect for America, democracy itself, and for human rights didn't begin at Guantanamo Bay. It is the result of an administration that operates in inflexible absolutes.  This is what happens when you devalue and demonize a people, a culture, a religion. This is what happens when you elevate, deify, and excuse your own.  
Guantanamo is simply one facet of a far larger and nearly absolute disregard for the most basic of human rights abroad and civil rights at home.  Placed beside this administration's intelligence duplicities, unjust and preemptive warfare, the outsourcing of torture, the abuse at Abu Ghraib, and the USA Patriot Act, America can hardly hold itself up as the beacon of democracy and liberty when it is smeared with the feces of its own willful and indulgent hypocrisy.
If we are to be better than our enemies, we mustn't become our enemies.  If we are the great nation we say we are (or once were), we must act like it.  We must be above reproach.  We must show the world how greatness acts in the face of fire.  For if we cannot uphold even our most basic tenets when threatened, than our democracy is a sham and our government as wicked, evil and utterly reprehensible as those who fly their planes into the buildings of innocents.


Anonymous Daria said...

Hi there--still trying to get used to a fellow former CSCSer being so informed about these things!! ; )
Thanks for sticking your neck out on this extremely important and disturbing topic...we Americans and, in particular, we Christians within the U.S. will have much to answer for--because the info's there (even if there's also lots of mind-numbing propaganda).
My church did a study of Bonhoeffer's life earlier this year, and these topics certainly came's easy enough to say the German people should have stood up to the wrongdoing of the Nazi government...what about the American people standing up against the wrongdoing of their current government?? We haven't the excuse of fear and repression that the Germans did!
Hel-lo, eh?

1:23 AM  
Blogger Brandon Fibbs said...

There are more of us than you know!

2:08 PM  

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