Politicians are constantly regurgitating a false belief that national security is more important than the rights of individuals. They are willing to do whatever it takes to keep America "safe from the terrorists" - even at the expense of civil liberties and basic human rights. They attempt to justify oppressive policies and actions that the U.S. and the rest of the civilized world have always condemned as immoral and illegal.
What we desperately need is for someone to explain to the Congress that national security is, and must always be secondary to preserving our civil liberties and ensuring that human rights are our first priority, subordinate to no other goal or interest. We need the Congress to explain the same thing to the President and the Courts, in straight-forward terms that can't be "interpreted" by clever, smirking administration lawyers to mean anything other than what they are intended to mean.
The thinking seems to be that anything that might be good for the nation automatically outweighs what might be good for the individual, and if there is a conflict between the two, individual rights must be sacrificed on the altar of "national security."
Nothing could be more absurd. America doesn't work that way.
If we place "national security" above the basic Constitutional rights of citizens, and before the inalienable human rights which are bestowed upon all of us by our Creator, exactly what is it that we are fighting for? National security rests solely in securing and preserving the sanctity of those rights.
What has been misunderstood is the definition of "nation." The security of the nation does not just mean protecting land or physical structures. The nation is not embodied in any physical building, nor in any abstract ideology. The nation is embodied in the individual citizens who live in it. The people are the nation, and the nation cannot exist without the people. The national security of any nation can only be assessed by examining the security of the freedoms and liberties of the people in that nation.
Do you think the Founders would have accepted such a ridiculous notion as "the good of the nation" being separate and apart from "the good of the individual citizen"? Or that violations of human rights can be justified by the necessity of protecting our physical structures from attack? Who among us would surrender our God-given natural rights in the name of protecting our houses?
Because that is essentially what the authoritarian power-grabbers in Washington are telling us is necessary for our "protection." They are literally trying to convince the American people that in order to preserve our Freedom we must surrender our Liberties. That kind of reasoning is so illogical that Jefferson and his buddies would have laughed the Congress out of the Capitol, and run the President out on a rail. Why do we refuse to do the same thing now?
Try to imagine how the Founders would have reacted if someone filed suit against his torturers and the court dismissed the case on the grounds of "state secrets." The reality is that human rights are vastly more critical to the survival of a democracy than any "secret" could ever be. Nothing is more important than human rights. There is no secret - no matter how critical - that could possibly justify refusing to give a person who has been kidnapped and tortured his or her day in court. Especially if that person was ultimately released when the abusers realized they had the wrong person. And even more especially if the Secretary of State has acknowledged that it was a case of mistaken identity or inaccurate information.
But that's what happened to Maher Arar, the Canadian citizen who was detained by U.S. authorities at a New York airport in 2002, and sent to Syria where he was tortured for ten months. He was later released months after it was learned that information supposedly linking him to terrorists was incorrect. His case against the U.S. was dismissed on the grounds of "state secrets."
Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice has since admitted in Congressional testimony that, ""We do not think that this case was handled as it should have been."
Arar is not alone. Several other cases have been denied the due process demanded by the Constitution and international treaties.
By refusing to give an innocent, tortured human being access to the courts in order to right the wrongs that were perpetrated against him, in the interest of keeping the evidence against his torturers from being exposed, the court becomes complicit in that torture. And they are just as guilty as if they, themselves, had repeatedly poured water into his mouth and nose until he passed out. The members of such a court that would deny Justice in the name of Secrecy might as well have been the ones who bloodied their hands in the name of "National Security."
The members of that court may as well have ordered the person stripped naked and humiliated, deprived of food and water, kept in a soundproofed cell with a sandbag on his head, wearing earmuffs, chained and shackled, soft mittens on his hands to deprive the victim even of the sense of touch for long periods of time. They may as well have personally kept the prisoner in extreme cold, doused with buckets of ice-water night and day to prevent sleep for days or even weeks at a time. They may as well have been the ones who ordered a detainee's hands cuffed behind his back and suspended by the wrists for hours on end.
Here is the bottom line: Individual rights are everything.
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