Reality Check

This article has been published on Huffington Post and can be seen here.

I saw several articles on 9/11 debating whether the US is safer, particularly since we went to Iraq.  That 9/11 is even connected to Iraq as somehow making us safer as laughable, especially considering the only relation between the two is that 9/11 was used as an excuse to get into Iraq.  Any suggestion that Iraq had anything to do with 9/11 has been roundly proven to be non-existent.  Yet the myth remains.

Ironically (or not considering the climate of this country since the year 2000), in the so many “arguments” against healthcare reform, the reason most often posited against any public option by those purporting to be reasonable is the cost.  This is ironic mainly considering these same naysayers have not been arguing against the obscene cost of the Iraq war.  Even if the government took over 100% of healthcare, owned every medical facility, hired every medical professional, and owned all of the equipment, the cost still would come nowhere near what we have spent and continue to spend on the Iraq war.

Supporters of the Iraq war have long used the argument that being there keeps us safe from terrorists.  This of course is in spite of evidence against any connection between Iraq and terrorism, at least before we got there.  We may now have created more terrorists in the way we have handled and treated the citizens in Iraq.  But to the supporters of the war, spending money in Iraq is spending money to combat terrorism.

Yet let’s be realistic here.  Suppose we actually were doing something to fight terrorism by being in  Iraq.  Would the cost still be justified?

Ask the average American how their life or the lives of their family members have been touched by terrorism.  It is more likely that this person has been struck by lightening five times than it is they have been personally affected by a terrorist attack.  Yes, it can be scary for some people to contemplate.  But seriously, it is extremely rare any of us will endure anything terrorist related that affects us personally.

Ask the same average American how their life or the lives of their family members have been affected by the healthcare crisis in this country.  It is more likely that they or a family member have been affected personally by the healthcare crisis than not.  Nearly everyone has some story to tell.  And even if a citizen hasn’t yet been affected, the possibility they will be affected if they lose their job (a much higher possibility even in a good economy than being affected by terrorism), then the lack of affordable healthcare will affect them.

We have spent billions and continue to spend billions in Iraq based on the dubious possibility we might be fighting terrorism, something that affects so few people, yet most of us cannot point to anyone who has been personally affected by it.  At the same time, we have politicians and citizens arguing against a public option because they claim we can’t afford it, even though most of us are affected by it every day.

We need a reality check.  The next time a politician claims we can’t afford public healthcare, ask them to stop spending money in Iraq and spend it here on healthcare instead.  Even if we could afford Iraq (we can’t), and even if being in Iraq protected us (it doesn’t), the reality is we should stop spending that money there and spend it here at home on something that affects all of us every day.

Torture is Treason

This piece was published on Huffington Post.  To see it there, go here. If you like it Buzz me up.

The human rights abuse in torture is inherent and obvious, but its implications to our society are ultimately worse.  In the context of terror, when our country tortures those accused of terrorist crimes, we create a climate where others sympathize with the torture victim, taking the focus away from the victims of the terrorist act.  Whether the tortured committed the crime or not becomes secondary to the sympathy felt for the torture victim.  In addition, the fact alone that someone was tortured, even if the confession is coincidentally true, harms any reputation we have of democracy or rule of law and motivates others to retaliation.  Worse, torture confounds the state’s ability to prosecute those who have harmed it.  If we end up freeing someone because they confessed to a crime under torture, it is possible we are allowing someone guilty, someone who genuinely sought to harm us, to go free.  If we prosecute them based on the elicited confessions, we could be punishing the innocent.  We never really know the truth.  In the end, torture makes the original crime against us secondary.

I followed the Daniel Pearl case, then I watched the movie of his wife’s story, A Mighty Heart.  It was brilliantly done.  The filmmakers managed to capture the complexity of the various agencies, organizations, and governments working to find Daniel Pearl. After Pearl’s death, several people were arrested and one man, Ahmed Omar Saeed Sheikh, has been sentenced to death, although with his multiple appeals, it is questionable whether he will ever suffer his sentence.  One aspect of his appeals has been the confession by Khalid Sheikh Mohammed to the actual killings.  Seems a reasonable explanation.

Except what is true?  Did Khalid Sheikh Mohammed really kill Daniel Pearl?  How could we ever know considering we now have the torture memos released by the CIA detailing the atrocities against Khalid Sheikh Mohammed and others, including his being waterboarded 183 times in one month (see story here).  It leaves me wondering whether he really committed any of the crimes and whether his confessions were valid.   Maybe he did it.  Maybe he didn’t.  We can’t know because the confessions were tortured out of him.

Daniel Pearl’s murder wasn’t the only crime to which Khalid Sheikh Mohammed confessed.  He also apparently oversaw the 9/11 attacks, the shoe bomb attack, the Bali nightclub attack, the 1993 World Trade Center bombings, as well as others.  His under-torture confessions to such a long list of infamous crimes make the likelihood seem even more dubious.  Yet the possibility is there–it is the torture that causes interference.  Khalid Sheikh Mohammed’s case is a brilliant example of the dangers of torture to a free and just society.  Not only does it call into question just how free and just we really are, it leaves us wondering who really did what.  We can’t trust anyone, least of all ourselves.

I have heard the primary arguments on both sides regarding whether or not to convict the agents and members of the Bush administration responsible for carrying out the torture.  All of these arguments have centered on whether the actions were justified, as well as on the repugnance of the acts themselves.  I would argue we need to take the discussion a step further.  While torture clearly constitutes human rights abuse, I would argue that it is also a form of treason.

In the United States, treason is the giving of aid and comfort to our enemies.  If torture keeps us from fully prosecuting those enemies, then the torturers themselves are in conspiracy with them, thereby giving them aid and comfort. Torture policies as a whole put our entire country in jeopardy.  It is a form of disloyalty to us inasmuch as we are left even more unsafe, not only from those who would harm us, but also from our inability to discover the truth and prosecute the criminals.  It creates a disintegration of our most fundamental values.  If a person actually commits an act of terror and is then tortured to extract a confession, his guilt will be questioned because of the torture and he may be allowed free.  This person is then free to terrorize us again, but this time he is likely angrier because of the torture he has suffered, leaving us in even greater danger.  Torture, those who ordered it and those who carried it out, caused this.  Allowing torture as an accepted policy of the United States and our failure to prosecute those responsible for it renders our democracy and our rule of law meaningless.

Just Say No

Welcome to the USA, where citizens are assumed to be out of “compliance” in their own country, where their own identification no longer satisfies officials they are who they say they are, where those born here are considered to be running afoul of the law and forging their identities unless and until they can get a computer to agree they are who they say they are.  Social security card, driver’s license, passport?  Nahhhh…those aren’t proof you are who you say you are.  If some computer somewhere says you don’t exist as you’ve proven, then you don’t exist, and it becomes your job to prove it by calling some stranger and providing the same information you have already provided in the forms of documentation.  Then somehow, maybe, you’ll become a citizen.

What a load of fucking crap.  When are people going to stop putting up with this terrorist crap?  When are people going to realize that having to endure shit like this is a worse threat than the highly unlikely possibility someone will bomb us?  It’s all about control on the part of a very few.  We need to stop allowing them to take control.  We need to stop complying simply to prove our innocence, to prove our citizenship. Too many people say I will comply because not complying makes me look guilty.  Fuck that!  If you aren’t guilty, you aren’t guilty.  Not complying does not make you MORE guilty!

Today the bank I chose here to start new accounts called me to tell me their “compliance department” claims my social security number has too many names on it. The “compliance department” in charge of making sure terrorists don’t open bank accounts.  Guess what, fuckers?  Timothy McVeigh had a social security card.  Being a US citizen does not keep one from becoming a terrorist.  Want to know why my social security number has more than one name?  It is because some minimum wage flunky fuck at the credit reporting agency imput the information incorrectly.  It is also because I was married in a patriarchal culture and changed my name then because I was too ignorant at the time to know better.  It doesn’t mean I forged my social security card, driver’s license, and passport.  It certainly does not mean I’m a terrorist.

I told the bank I did not appreciate being called a liar.  I said that being told I need to prove further who I am, that telling me my proof was not good enough was akin to saying my proof was a lie.  I told them that if my proof of identity was not good enough, I would take my money elsewhere.  I explained that I was not going to comply to prove my innocence, that they needed to prove my guilt.  I told her I knew most people would go along with this charade as evidence of their good faith, but that I needed no such evidence.  I said I was not going to waste my time proving further I am who I am, that they could spend the time disproving I am who I am.  The kind lady who had to put up with me told me she would do some research and get back to me.

The irony in this is that I was told this was somehow for my own good, proving someone else wasn’t using my number.  How many people stop and believe that bullshit?  I’m trying to put money in their bank, I say I am Lara Gardner, I give documents I am Lara Gardner, their computer says my social security number has other names on it, so now I’m not safe?  What a load of fucking crap.  This has nothing to do with anything for my own good and everything to do with control.

There are fourteen characteristics common to fascism.  One of these is an obsession with national security, using fear as a motivational tool to control the masses.  I will not be a pawn in the government’s tool chest of fear in order to create the illusion of control.  If we are truly free, we should be free to open a bank account with money from another US bank without being accused of being a terrorist.