Can I Use The "Following Orders" Excuse, Too?

It's an understandable desire for the American people to put the Bush Administration behind us, along with all the dark shadows of his regime. The eight years we made it through were marred with scandal and questionable ethics, and weren't the kind of thing you find celebrated in history books. However, in President Obama's assertion that doing just that is the thing to do in order to move forward, he is letting people, literally, get away with murder. Included in those dark shadows we are putting behind us is an ever growing stack of evidence that torture, in some cases causing death, was used against detainees in the War on Terror.

As I'm sure you know, President Obama has already taken steps to put an end to the questionable practices that have come under fire. Guantanamo Bay, where torture knowingly took place, is being closed, and along with it, the numerous overseas CIA prisons used to duck out of international law. You know, like that pesky Geneva Convention. He has spoken out and assured the American people torture would not be used under his administration. Well, that's wonderful. It really is. We need to make sure these things don't happen in the future. But when Obama also claims going after those people who have committed these acts of violence is counterproductive, he's sorely mistaken.

It's easy to look at the situation and try to make it less than it was. They were "supposed terrorists." We needed "intelligence." America is, after all, the great spreader of Democracy and Freedom, and not the dreaded abusers of power. Well, sorry, but we apparently became just that while interrogating these "enemy combatants." By ambiguously pressuring soldiers to obtain intelligence from those brought into prisons such as Bagram, Abu Ghraib, and Gitmo, and then giving them few (if any) directions in regards to how to do this, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Attorney General Alberto Gonzalez, and President Bush are directly responsible for the violence that took place in all three prisons, as well as others. Of course, they act surprised these things -- the photos of prisoners being sexually humiliated in Abu Ghraib, the numerous homicide deaths of detainees, the videos of men driven to their breaking point, pounding their heads against the wall -- but how can they not know what the shackles on the ceiling are used for? How do they not know their soldiers are, as in the case of one detainee, "pulpifying" their legs using knee kicks?

The detainee referred to above was picked up by Afghan militia in Yabuki. His name was Dilawar and he was a taxi driver. If you've seen the film Taxi to the Dark Side, you know this story. After being hired by three men in a nearby town, he was taken in with them as the "get away driver" after a bombing. Dilawar had nothing to do with the bombing; he had picked the men up afterwards on the street when they said they were going to Yabuki. He was taken to Bagram prison, where he died a week later. The cause of death was ruled homicide -- blunt force trauma. Soldiers who dealt with -- or rather, beat -- Dilawar have since admitted use of force was unnecessary. After days of sleep deprivation, the detainee was hallucinating and hysterical, calling out for his parents late into the night. The soldiers used the knee kicks -- digging into the upper thigh with one's knee, which is supposedly non-fatal -- to silence him, or, in some cases, to hear him scream out, "Allah!" The same soldiers have also said they didn't think he was guilty of anything from the very beginning. And yet, Dilawar was killed.

So, where's the justice in that? What about the other 37 homicides caused by this same kind of violence? If that's not torture, I don't know what is. War on Terror (a term which will not be used in the Obama administration, according to Secretary Clinton) aside, there comes a time when you need to look at it for what it is. People beating people to death. People humiliating people. People playing on the fears and cultural values to demean people. Much like these things were unacceptable during World War II, they are unacceptable in this supposed War on Terror. The claims that people were "just following orders" is ridiculous. Let the courts decide who was "just following orders," and who was just giving those orders.

The issue of torture is not a partisan battle. Or, at least, it shouldn't be. It's a moral issue, a human issue. A matter of people not accused of anything but, in many cases and like Dilawar, being in the wrong place at the wrong time. To use one of those precious Nazi references thrown around lately, Hitler himself never gave explicit orders to kill any Jews. He just said to take care of the problem. Rumsfeld never said to "torture" anyone, he just said to get the information. Well, as information slowly leaks to the American people, I can only hope more of us become as outraged as we should be that these things were carried out in our name. And let's hope we do carry out the promises of leading the world morally, not just militarily, under Obama. So let's all take step one together. Let's bring the people responsible, at the highest levels, to justice.


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The Red Elephant in the Room

If you haven't yet, go see Che. It's in limited release right now in it's full four and a half hour format, and I highly recommend seeing it now if possible. Even if you don't like Che Guevara, it's a great movie. But this blog isn't just about Che. It's about Socialism.

After seeing the movie, I felt completely re-dedicated to Socialism. Since high school, I've been a Socialist. It's been one of those things you say half apologetically, knowing the tirade that's coming about how hard people work and who wants to just give handouts left and right? After a while, it's easier to just avoid the argument at all. But recently there has been a surge in Socialism's popularity. It's all over the place, from the attempted rescue of our floundering economy to our own president openingly calling for a redistribution of wealth. I'm not saying anyone is throwing around the "S" word with a light heart; it's still a red smear for most of the population. But it is in the public dialogue, which is pretty awesome if you ask me.

There is a quote that goes something like, "I believe in Socialism because I believe in humanity." That sums up why I'm drawn to Socialism pretty well. It's not a matter of anger or hatred for the upper classes of society, but just a belief that we all deserve an equal chance. A real equal chance, by the way, not the supposed equal chance we all have just by being born in the USA. Socialism, to me, is a matter of loving people enough to want what's best for them. It's the ability to care for people in an unselfish way, and to have a compassion for the human condition. You have to be able to put yourself into the mix as no better than anyone else, and no more deserving than anyone else. It's about rising above competition to work together.

A lot of people think of Socialism as welfare, handing out checks to the unemployed. But when I think of welfare, I don't think of it as just handing out money, but of putting people into jobs. RFK had a plan that would do just that -- set up a welfare program that would place people in jobs where they were needed rather than just give hand outs. It makes a lot of sense; those willing to work are rewarded. I mean, how many people are there who are working two, three jobs and still can't make ends meet? And that's somehow fair, despite these people working hard their whole lives? If you have ever, and I hope you get the chance, worked a minimum wage job and tried to save money, then you'll see how hard life can be. Sure, you can survive, but when it comes to getting ahead, it's nearly impossible. That, to me, just isn't fair.

But I'm not a naive, wide eyed dreamer. I know that Socialism probably won't take seed here in the United States, and I'm okay with that. I'm happy with President Obama, and know he'll work to make things better for everyone. But that doesn't mean I don't still consider myself a Socialist, and try to apply the concepts myself. Just by helping others, and generally having compassion for other's suffering, I feel like people could make a big difference. It's not just about getting policy changed, but about changing the way people relate to society. Everyday interaction is what's going to really affect people.


I Feel Lost

Alright, look. I became politically aware during the 2000 election. Yes, that battle royale between Bush and Gore was what lit my little political flame. I was 11 years old, and read my parents' Newsweeks and watched CNN religiously. I even made collages to hang in my windows. I wasn't the coolest kid in Junior High, okay? Of course, this interest blossomed into full blown obsession after 9/11. While the rest of the world was rallying behind Cowboy Bush, I was once again researching and reading, and even made a collage or two. During high school, politics was my main hobby. I read the Communist Manifesto when I was sixteen, making me the beloved Socialist I am today (please don't stone me to death.)

But that whole time, I had someone to rail against. I had the Bush administration. I was driven by the desire to make things better, to change foreign policy, and to open the eyes of my peers to the lies the country was being fed. Again, I wasn't the coolest kid. I was angry. I was very, very angry. Change was needed. It had to come.

And then it did. With Obama, our country is (hopefully) going to turn a new leaf. And that is wonderful. It's necessary, and it's great, and while I'm not trying to be unrealistic, I really think things are going to get better. So here's the problem: I'm happy.

I know. It's awful. I have no sense of condescension when I think about who is running the country. No sense of being able to do it better myself. I'm not bitter, or disillusioned, or anything like that. I'm hopeful, happy, and proud of my own country. This has never happened before, and I honestly don't know how to feel about it. I suddenly have faith in who is running the show, and even feel protective of him. It's . . . it's. . . shocking.

In time, I will learn how to deal with my new found patriotism. I'll come to terms with the fact that I don't want to flee the country and actually agree with the president. But until then, I'm stuck in this uncomfortable state of contentment, and will have to find something else to target my resentment on. At least I'll always have Bill O'Reilly. . .
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