Yet Another GITMO Death

Imagine being accused of a crime for which you are innocent, found guilty and sent to prison. That would be possibly one of the worst things that can happen to anyone. You haven’t done what the state says you did, and yet there you are, imprisoned. I can only imagine how much that must weigh on a person when it happens.

Now imagine that you eventually proved you weren’t guilty, the courts agreed that you weren’t guilty, and then you spent the next nine years in prison anyhow. That’s the situation that faced Adnan Latif, who was rounded up in the time following 9/11 and illegally held without charges. He eventually proved he wasn’t guilty of being a terrorist and his release was ordered. Time passed, and now, nine years later, he was still being held because the Obama administration keeps dragging their feet on releasing these people.

So it came as no surprise at all, really, when Latiff was found in his cell, dead of a drug overdose. This man, who had mental problems and had threatened suicide before, was being illegally held in criminal and immoral conditions. It’s no shock that he finally lost hope and killed himself. Really, the surprise is that he didn’t do it sooner.

That he was there in the first place is a moral, ethical, and legal failing of the Bush administration. That he remained there years after his release was authorized was a failing of both Bush and Obama, though to be fair, Obama did try to close GITMO, only to be told by Congress that they weren’t going to allow that to happen. So I guess we can blame them for this guy’s death, too.

In fact, while we’re at it, since this is a representative democracy, why don’t we all accept a portion of the blame? Ultimately we’re the masters of our government. They only do what they think we want. We told them we didn’t want GITMO closed, so they left it open, and look what has happened now.

And we wonder, from time to time, why certain parts of the world hate us.

Suppose They’d Had Guns?

Imagine, if you will, that the attacks on the Boston Marathon had been done with guns instead of with bombs. That’s the “what if” scenario presented in The New Yorker. In an article on their website, John Cassidy asks what might have been different and comes to some interesting conclusions.

Well, for one thing, the brothers would probably have killed a lot more than three people at the marathon. AR-15s can fire up to forty-five rounds a minute, and at close range they can tear apart a human body. If the Tsarnaevs had started firing near the finish line, they might easily have killed dozens of spectators and runners before fleeing or being shot by the police.

The second thing that would have been different is the initial public reaction. Most Americans associate bomb attacks with terrorists. When they hear of mass shootings, they tend to think of sociopaths and unbalanced post-adolescents. If the Tsarnaevs had managed to carry out a gun massacre unharmed and escaped, their identities unknown, would the first presumption have been that the shooters were Islamic extremists? Or would people have looked in another direction?

I think this is a fascinating question. Just imagine if it had gone down this way. We’d likely not have had the entire city of Boston shut down (which was really an overreaction), we wouldn’t have Muslims in America having to live in fear, or at least not as much, we likely wouldn’t have the Fox News crowd talking about all the various parts of the Constitution that would should suspend, and quite possibly we might have been able to get gun control.

But for some reason, the same act, carried out with bombs instead of guns and, as the article suggests, likely killing fewer people, is something that causes our country to collectively go nuts. I have been wondering why this is, and I think I’ve reached a conclusion.

We’ve gotten used to mass-shootings.

I remember at a particularly low point late last year hearing about a mass-shooting. My first thought was, “Another one? Is it Tuesday already?” I’d become pretty accustomed to them, and rather blase about them. I still think they’re bad, I still want them to stop, I still want sensible gun control…but beyond that, I just kind of shrugged at went about my day. These things have happened so often that I just kind of accept them as a horrible background noise on our cultural landscape.

Terrorist bombings, while commonplace about 100 years ago, are pretty rare in this country. And so we haven’t gotten used to them like, say, the British got used to IRA bombings in the 1970s and 1980s. Because we aren’t used to them, we still treat them as something other than a crime, and we still lose our collective shit when one of them happens.

I do hope we never get used to bombings. I’d like us to stop being used to mass-shootings. And I’d like our responses to both to be much more rational and grounded in reality. It’s unlikely, but I can dream.

“Terrorism” is a Useless Word

Yesterday some murderer detonated two bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. At this point, we know that three people were killed, and about 176 were injured. It was a bad, horrible crime, and really, that’s all that we need to think of it as.

People use the word “terrorism” to describe crimes like this. I can understand that. We hear about these crimes and many people are quite terrified, which arguably is the point of them. However we also feel terrified, at least as a people, when something like the shootings at Sandy Hook go down. That wasn’t about terror so much as it seems to have been about killing as many people as possible, which, ultimately, also seems to be the primary goal of terrorism. We might also experience terror when hearing about a serial killer in the area, yet most people wouldn’t think of that as terrorism.

“Terrorism” as a word is completely useless, and shuts down any attempt at rational conversation for most people. I would argue that we need to purge it from our collective vocabulary. What happened yesterday was a crime. A crime that resulted in three dead people. The specific crime of “murder” is enough. We don’t have a “terrorist” with all the cache that goes along with that word; we have a murderer. We have some asshole who wanted to kill people. His or her motivations don’t matter a whit.

And really, every act of what we think of as terrorism is essentially just another crime with an adjective added on. Hijacking a plane is already illegal. Killing people is already illegal. On 9/11, murderers and hijackers did what they did and that’s all we need. We don’t have to have a special word to describe it.

So let’s try not to use the word “terrorism” anymore. It serves no useful purpose and only empowers those would want to cause terror.

On Al-Awalaki

The American government has hunted down and killed an American citizen. This was done without charges filled or trial held. It was a deliberate, intentional targeting and, very arguably, outside the realm of law.

The person killed was Anwar Al-Awalaki, an American citizen who was working for al-Qaeda and hiding in Yemen. He was, no doubt, a very unpleasant person who, because he was born in America and lived here for the first seven years of his life, then came back to go to college, was able to get his evil message out in a language that was easier to understand for American audiences. In this way he was rather like Tokyo Rose.

Al-Awalaki was, as I said, someone who pushed an evil message, and the world is better for that message being stopped. But I cannot escape the fact that in this case the American government hunted down and murdered a US citizen against whom no charges were filed.

According to what I’ve read, he was killed when missiles were fired into a vehicle he was in. I must ask, if we knew where he was and were able to target him, shouldn’t we have been able to drop in some troops to take him into custody? Yes, it might have been a bit risky, and he might have gotten away, but anytime police go in to arrest suspects it’s a bit risky and the suspect might escape. That doesn’t mean that the cops get to shoot said suspect as soon as they are spotted.

I’m not displeased that Al-Awalaki is dead. The world is better without him being in it. But there are ways to do these things, and if we’re going to be a country of laws, and if we’re going to have the moral high ground, we need to find ways other than killing American citizens without charges or trial.

September 11, 2001

Even from the time I went to sleep on September 10th, I knew September 11, 2001, was going to be a big and important day. Why? Because it was the day the cable company was scheduled to come by (between 9 and noon), to install cable where I lived. This turned out to be something of a mixed blessing.

My roommate woke me up at around 7am by knocking on the door and telling me to turn on my TV. I did, and was immediately astonished at what I was seeing. I seem to remember that I tuned in not too long before the first tower collapsed. It was a sight both great and terrible and I had no idea what to make of it. Then the reports came in about the crash at the Pentagon and in Pennsylvania.

We didn’t have cable, but we did have the internet, so I hoped on and began trying to find out what I could. I heard rumors about things like a car bomb outside the State Department, something which thankfully wasn’t true. I also watched in great horror as the second tower came down, and called my mom and my dad to talk with them about what was happening.

The cable installer was right on time, arriving shortly after 9am. He got the cable installed and suddenly we had 150 or channels at our disposal, almost all of which were rebroadcasting CNN. I stayed glued to the TV for pretty much all that day and most of the next. And then, like everyone else, except the so-called “truthers,” I went on with my life.

Our country did change that day, but it didn’t change even slightly for the better. Before September 11, 2001, it would have been unthinkable for our nation to sanction the use of torture. We never would have held people indefinitely without charges or trial. Our government wasn’t allowed to monitor phone calls of American citizens without warrants. Mosques could be built without people raising an eyebrow. The security measures we’ve put into place in our airports would never have been tolerated. Tens, maybe even hundreds, of thousands of people in Afghanistan and Iraq would not be dead. We wouldn’t be stuck in two foreign wars, one of which wasn’t even remotely necessary.

Our country was severely damaged that day, but not by the terrorists who knocked down some buildings and killed a crapload of people. Our country was damaged by ourselves and our leaders, who sold out the notion of civil liberties and freedom in return for a perception of security that everyone knows is false anyhow. We have become a lesser, damaged country that ignores the principles we want everyone else to uphold.

It’s been ten years since the attacks, and arguably that’s because of what we’ve done. I’m sure the increased security probably helped a bit, but I doubt it was the main reason we haven’t been attacked. The main reason is that, on that day, AL-Qaeda got lucky. Very lucky. We had a president who was asleep at the switch and ignored reports with titles like “Al-Qaeda Determined to Attack Targets in the United States,” and no one had ever really tried to do something like this before. This was a one-off, and even without the insane security measures and curtailment of rights and freedoms, likely we still wouldn’t have been attacked by them again in any notable way.

Glenn Beck did something a couple years back called “9/12″ or somesuch. It was about returning people to the mindset we had the day after the attacks, when we were one country pulling together. I’d much rather we go back to 9/10, when we were a country that stuck to its guns on issues of freedom and democracy. A country that took a far greater threat in the form of Nazi Germany and still played by the rules of war and still give the Nazis trials rather than holding them forever.

One day, with luck, we’ll go back to being the country we were on September 10, 2001.

When is a Christian Not a Christian?

Not a true Christian.

When he’s Anders Breivik. He says he’s a Christian, and fundamentalist one at that. A “Christianist” as Andrew Sullivan calls him. But according to the Fox News crowd, he’s not a Christian, because Christians don’t go around shooting up people (well, unless they’re Scott Roeder), and detonating terrorist bombs (well, unless they’re Eric Rudolph). Actually, I’m inclined to agree with them. Anyone who goes around killing people is not a true Christian in the sense that they haven’t absorbed the whole “do unto others” and forgiveness thing. They’re especially not true Christians if they kill people in the name of Jesus. This applies not only to Breivik, Roeder and Rudolph, but also to historical terrorism as practiced and preached by many of the Popes, kings, queens, emperors, Crusaders and the like.

Not a true Muslim.

So I’ll agree and I’ll stop calling him a Christian, but only if the same people who get their panties in a bunch about people calling him a Christian also stop referring to terrorists like the ones who attacked us on 9/11 and hit London on 7/7 as “Muslims”. After all, they aren’t true Muslims. The Muslim faith preaches that Allah is all-compassionate and all-forgiving. It explicitly states you shouldn’t make war against the innocent. Saying that it’s ok to go around killing large numbers of people in the name is Islam is no more mainstream than it is to say that it’s ok to kill large numbers of people in the name of Christianity.

So if Breivik wasn’t a true Christian, that’s fine. But if that’s the case, then the various terrorists in the al-Qaeda vein aren’t true Muslims.

Al Qaeda’s Got an Urgin’ for a Surgeon

Why so serious?

According to government warnings, al Qaeda is trolling around looking for doctors who might be willing to implant explosives into people. Because apparently they think The Dark Knight is a documentary.

This is silly on so many levels. First, this explosive would be next to useless for anything other than killing the person it is inside of. The mass of the body would act as a shield and you’d have no real shrapnel flying around. Just lots of chunky salsa. Second, how would one detonate this? I picture someone with a fuse sticking out of their liver. Ok, they’d probably use a cell phone or something, but that just complicates matters further. Third, how many people would die from an infection or complications before they had a chance to detonate? Fourth, really guys? That’s the best you can come up with? Losers.

What’s really stupid, however, is the government warning about this. It serves only to make people paranoid and, realistically, I think it would be unlikely they could find an implanted bomb through normal screening methods. From CNN’s article on this:

“As a precaution, passengers flying from international locations to U.S. destinations may notice additional security measures in place. These measures are designed to be unpredictable, so passengers should not expect to see the same activity at every international airport,” [spokesman Nicholas] Kimball said.

So what additional screen procedures are these? If it’s something that won’t show up on the standard x-ray/metal detector arrangement, how are they supposed to find it? Are we all going to get free full-body CAT scans now?

This s something that can be filed under “Ignore Completely”, except for the fact that now that our government has brought it up they’ll have to find a “fix” somehow. So, yeah, probably coming soon to an airport near you, full-body CAT scans.

The bin Laden Photos

So there’s a big discussion going on about if the photos of dead bin Laden should be released (and for those curious about his full name, read this). The White House says it won’t happen. People in Congress have seen them. Other people have seen them. I’m giving it no later than November before they leak.

I do think, for the record, that we should be allowed to see them. First, we have a right to. It’s a free society and a democracy and we have the right to see what our government has done in our name. I suppose these could be classified, but there’s no real reason they should be. Second, frankly we paid good money for this outcome. We’ve spent a couple trillion dollars we didn’t really have to fight the war in Afghanistan and the one in Iraq. We deserve to be allowed to see how our money was spent.

On a side note, I learned today that apparently the SEAL team that did the attack was beamed down from a Starfleet vessel and presumably used phasers and bat’leths to get the job done.


We Got Him?!

Well, breaking news and subject to modification, but it sounds as though former US ally Osama bin Ladden is dead. Dead as a tin of Spam. I’m getting this from CNN, CBS and others. The President is apparently going to speak on this soon.

If this is indeed true it changes… well, not much, really. He’s been largely irrelevant since he got lucky back in 2001, and with the recent so-called “Arab Spring” he and his message have become ever more irrelevant. But no doubt this means an end to terror, right? And somehow everything is better and stuff? I don’t know. I wish we’d caught him alive. A trial for him would’ve been a great thing, since we’re a nation of laws.

It’s also worth mentioning at this point that he and his kind did a lot of damage to us. Four airplanes, a couple thousand dead, damage to the Pentagon, a few buildings knocked over. It’s also worth mentioning that we did a lot more damage to ourselves than he ever did. He didn’t force us to start using torture. He didn’t make us hold people without charges and without trial. He didn’t make us launch invasions of two countries, one of whom had nothing to do with 9/11. We’ve killed far more people in our efforts to stop terrorism than any terrorists have ever killed. Now that bin Ladden is dead, I hope this nonsense stops.

But I don’t think it will.

*** UPDATE – 8:11pm ***

Sounds like we got him in a mansion outside Islamabad. That’s the capital of Pakistan, a nation which has gone out of our way to reassure us that they are working very hard indeed to stop terrorism and find bin Ladden. Whoops.

*** UPDATE – 8:38pm ***

Obama is talking now and making some good statements, including about how bin Ladden attacked Muslims, too. CNN is also showing people celebrating outside the White House. That’s classy. *eye roll* Regardless of what you think of bin Ladden he was still a human being and we really should not be celebrating this.

*** UPDATE – 849pm ***

The President said “Justice has been done.” No, it hasn’t. Justice would have been bringing him to trial, presenting evidence and getting a verdict. This was revenge. Better killing him than nothing, but a trial would have been much, much better and much more like the country we claim we are.

*** UPDATE – 9:43pm ***

The best comment I’ve read or heard about this so far comes from Andrew Sullivan (of course).

The more I hear the more Obama seems very close to this over the last few months: in weekly meetings, deeply involved in five national security meetings recently. This was not a lucky break. This was the end-point of several weeks of coordination. And Obama’s cool throughout. As Donald Trump was birthering out, Obama was aiming right at this country’s deadliest enemy.

While I disagree that bin Ladden was our deadliest enemy, I can certainly agree with the sentiment behind the differences between Trump and Obama.

A Fun Thought Experiment

Let us travel to an alternate reality for a moment. In this reality Jared Lee Loughner is exactly the same as he is in our reality. He’s just as barking mad, just as strange and just as American. But in this alternate reality his name is Ali Mohammad al-Fasal, and he’s a Muslim. Assume everything else is exactly the same as it is in our world, except the name and the religion. Now, given that, what do you expect the right wing would be saying right now?

This is just a guess based on things that have gone before, but I’ll wager they’d be calling it terrorism, and loudly making verbal attacks on all Muslims while quietly emphasizing that not all Muslims are to blame. They’d call it a violent religion and cherry-pick lines from the Koran while of course ignoring all the violent lines in the Bible (many of which would likely be the same, since they are both based off Judaism). They’d certainly loudly and vocally decry any efforts by the left to calm things down and they’d likely start continue to refer to the ACLU, CAIR and anyone else who isn’t on their side as traitors. The Becks, the Limbaughs and the Palins of the world would have a field day.

It’s an interesting thought, what the differences would be had the man’s name and religion been just slightly different.


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