Human Rights Are for All Folks: Security and Liberty

This spring, Senate Intelligence Committee Chair Dianne Feinstein, traditionally sympathetic to the intelligence community, accused the CIA of searching and spying on the computers of Senators and their staffers. CIA head John Brennan loudly asserted that "nothing could be further from the truth." After being caught wrong last week, he has crow to eat, as Feinstein's claims are true. Most of the 6,300 page Senate report is still classified, and Senators Feinstein and Levin pledged to both fight for fewer redactions before public release and say that they aren't rushing it. Brennan issued an apology of sorts, but for us members of the public, without the knowledge of the report to a much larger degree, it remained difficult to know if his apology is enough or what might be needed to set things right. The following day, President Obama bluntly admitted, in an odd turn of phrase, that "we tortured some folks" after 9/11. The ensuing coverage was the first uptick of attention to American conduct in this and similar matters like indefinite detention, excessive surveillance, and the extrajudicial killings of targeted individuals. Silence from the public enables these actions by politicians. This is not only spying but admissions of torture, committed by American policy and American hands. Torture is the intentional infliction of maximum physical and/or emotional pain, terror, and abuse and having it done in our name should be cause for deep shame and a call to action. Disclosure, responsibility, and accountability are good, but we need more than a glacial pace. The damage has been vast and we need to stop, address, and prevent these violations and to address the damage.

The UDHR enumerates some of the unconditional rights all humans, American or not. They are irrevocable and it is the duty of all people to uphold them everywhere. Torture has happened in America's name, but to how many? We don't know. How many? Inclusive of rendition? Only recognized "enhanced interrogations" or including unauthorized ones like at Abu Ghraib? Do you know about how torture continues even after it stops for a person, that the physical and psychological destruction is long-term and is often permanent? If we do, then torture victims and survivors merit a full-throated protest for change, not attempts to justify and excuse. We had an the Bush Administration disguise torture by renaming it "enhanced interrogation," outsource it by rendition, and to have happen hidden at CIA black sites. It was given clearance in 2002 by Alberto Gonzales' dismissal of the Geneva Conventions. While there was some window-dressing after a 2006 Supreme Court ruling, it did not end.

Though some policies were discontinued by the Obama administration, the practice ofrendition continued. We haven't full information on rendition or black sites either, but it is a practice where we transport and then knowingly release suspects to the custody of governments that will employ torture without trying to hide it as is practiced in "enhanced interrogations" to keep the body free of visible wounds, the better to undermine victims' complaints. In rendition, everything and every outcome is fair game. Also fair game for anything are the Guantanamo Bay detainees, where the location in Cuba and being designated with the identity of "enemy combatants" is reason to deny rights and standards. Ad hoc judicial processes were created but don't past any real muster of legitimacy to critics and while some detainees have been released, many remain. They are force-fed in the event of attempting hunger strikes and denied redress of concerns. Add indefinite detention and deprivation of judicial process to the list of egregious violations that were once unimaginable to see tolerated in this country.

We have a level of surveillance that goes beyond the collaboration of a few agencies like the CIA, NSA (National Security Agency), or FBI. In some ways, it goes beyond. It includes so many public and private agencies big and small that are both integrated and diffuse; it is a complex now so vast and well-funded that it collects data on billions of phone calls, emails, and other deeply personal data to inspect, read, analyze, and store, with neither notification nor recourse (recall again that a high-ranking US Senator discovered such surveillance and had it flatly denied up until a report clearly showed otherwise -- even that it happened to sitting Senators) of such collections. With the established policy including the use of indefinite detention, torture, and targeted extrajudicial killing, the increase in surveillance without accountability or oversight should give us more than mere pause.

Why does our democratic government get to kill a boy at a picnic with friends and have a press secretary dismiss concerns about his murder as just what you get for having the wrong father? Why do we tolerate a government which has not only gathered private communications from American citizens as well as the leadership of some of our closest allies on a scale that was recently unimaginable by even science fiction, to admit it after being caught, which was after such gathering was flatly denied and before the "security" of that data was shown to be a sham? Why are these grave violations of international laws and standards as well as domestic laws and constitutional principles met without opposition or objection by our elected representatives? Why are things done, in our name, which strengthen resentment by enemies of the United States by our and at once enlarges the number of enemies? Why is it that there are no bankers who seem to have been held accountable for the financial crisis or prevented from profiting from it on the grounds that their businesses were "too big to fail" because they are at the heart of the American economy while it seems that nobody thought that civil rights, human rights, international agreements, or civil liberties are too big to fail because they are at the heart of America's potential, of America as a beacon to the world? Why are we not having a truth and reconciliation commission instead of continuing to ignore these festering blots on our ideals? Why have we not considered trying people who created and ordered these abuses as criminals instead of making excuses for some of them? What is the America you love, the one that our men and women in service have given their lives to protect? Is it the one that deceives its own citizens knowingly to wage a war that has seen thousands of Americans die in uniform and over a hundred thousand civilians as well, while racking up a bill that will take a generation to pay off? Or is it one that stands on principle, that defends its integrity without flinching and stands for human rights? You will need to decide. We all will. And if we want the latter more than the former, we must act. Real patriots don't lash out with support for violence nor support the destruction of rights and liberty.

Torturing folks is wrong. It's wrong for all folks, not just some folks. The Third Geneva Convention and the treatment of POWs has been challenged with regard to Guantanamo detainees. To this day, there are deep concerns over disregard of the UN Convention Against Torture, other international agreements and long-enshrined American principles. This is it: torture is always unacceptable, regardless of who it is practiced upon. That means always, it's not contingent on behavior or character or allegations or even crimes of a detainee or individual even for the truly sinister. Never torture. Period. And torture does not work, no matter how applied, to obtain reliable information. It does work to create long-term and possibly permanent effects borne by individuals and by entire countries. It can create physical conditions that cause pain for the remaining lifetime. Survivors of torture and the communities most affected often become simply incapable of healing from the abuses they suffered and thus becomes intergenerational.

Trying to trade away values and principles that should be cherished does not make America safer, but only makes enemies abroad and diminishes America everywhere. The values and principles we are losing and have lost are what "America" really is and are perhaps the greatest things about the country. The willingness to see these principles violated, to go along with the loss of trust in the country abroad and at home, the reflex to endorse massive violence to exorcise our ghosts even when sold to us on deceptions and costing the lives of over a hundred thousand civilians? These behaviors are not patriotic. Real patriots defend the substance as much as the symbol, and are willing to fight for the restoration of the liberty and justice for all folks in America and around the world.

It will not be an easy fix. We have corporatized segments of policing and national security. We have allowed powerful money interests, larger than the military-industrial complex might have even been imagined by Eisenhower, to grow deep roots. We are human in frailties, but also in strengths and can demand change together. Other nations have established Truth and Reconciliation Commissions to provide real healing and accountability for past and future, with success variable with format and supervision used. Perhaps the greatest success was in the Commission formed in post-Apartheid South Africa, which moved a nation where a minority brutally ruled others with contempt to a multi-ethnic modern state that is a model. We're all just folks. Together, we folks can affirm what humans can do, what freedoms we can all share and protect, and we folks can vanquish the enemies of liberty and human rights. Whether they are enemies that are openly hostile to the ideas of human rights or whether they try to wrap themselves in a flag to disguise their aims, we must defend human rights for all folks all the time.

What can we do? Demand that it stop. Simply and bluntly contact your Representatives and Senators and let them know that the United States must stop torture without qualification, must stop extrajudicial targeted killing, must provide due judicial process through established military or civilian courts for all detained without indefinite delay, and must respect and not infringe on reasonable expectations of privacy without process and opportunity to appeal. Demand defense of principles. Ask for a Truth and Reconciliation process, or for criminal and civil trials as alternatives for those who have usurped liberties of ours and destroyed the rights of others. Human rights and civil liberties as not merely the window dressing around the word "freedom" but as the very core of what freedom has ever meant. Say that you love this country enough to not destroy its principles, not even when those trying are wrapped in a flag to deceive and tell them that real patriots defend human rights and not torture.