Oh Lord, if only he meant it.
So many of us saw it five years ago - in that fleeting eternity, as the towers slid to earth, taking with them unknown thousands of innocent souls. The merciless suddenness, the sheer irrationality, of their deaths released not just the hope but the conviction that this should never happen again. This was the spirit of 9/11, and it could have given birth to a struggle for civilization . . . for something different, a reorganization of national priorities, around compassion for every human on the planet.
Instead it gave us the precise opposite: two devastating wars, a strutting president in a flight suit - and Abu Ghraib, Guantanamo, torture memos, secret prisons in Eastern Europe, a fledgling national gulag.
Nusra, who lived in a small mountain village in Afghanistan, was partially paralyzed from a stroke and bedridden at the time of his arrest, according to one of the capsule bios in a report by the Center for Constitutional Rights called "Faces of Guantanamo: Guantanamo's Many Wrongly Imprisoned." "He is . . . unable to stand or walk unassisted. Despite his age and frailty, Mr. Nusrat was arrested after protesting the arrest of his son. . . . (He said he) believed he would die in Guantanamo, and he did not know whether or not his wife remained alive during the long years of his detention."
Or consider the case of Murat Kurnaz, a German resident of Turkish descent, who "was traveling through Pakistan with Islamic missionaries in November 2001 when he was pulled off a bus at a routine stop by local police and turned over to U.S. officials."
But that was then. Bush's struggle for civilization is now in cruise mode. For instance, the Pentagon's new Army Field Manual, which was under debate for more than a year, has just been released. It "specifically bans," according to the New York Times, "forcing a detainee to be naked or perform sexual acts; using beatings and other forms of causing pain, including electric shocks; . . . staging mock executions; withholding food, water or medical care; or using dogs against detainees."
Surely this is the vision we all had as the Towers collapsed - a world where U.S. prisoners are not sexually humiliated, mauled by dogs or beaten to death. Sorta warms the heart.
Or maybe not.
"The worst abuse is being told they're there indefinitely - there's no hope. That's what they're constantly told," said Chicago lawyer Pat Bronte, who is part of a team representing several Guantanamo detainees. "Most of the guys are young, in their 20s and early 30s," she said. "Some have wives and children. They all have families they haven't see in four and a half or five years."
Well, too bad. "As has been the case in previous wars, the country that takes prisoners generally decides that they would prefer them not to go back to the battlefield," Donald Rumsfeld said in 2002. "They detain those enemy combatants for the duration of the conflict." And this is a war without end.
Could things be more badly botched? Could the true spirit of 9/11 be more debased? For now, civilization itself is under lock and key at Guantanamo, and last week the president told members of Congress he hopes they can figure out a way to keep it there.
- - -