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what have we learned?

June 3, 2010

I was watching West Wing with dinner tonight and got to the episode that aired right after 9/11. It’s been nearly nine years, and it saddens and scares me how little we’ve learned.

The plot of the episode is that a captured terrorist named an accomplice who has an alias that’s the same name as someone who works in the White House. They lock down the building and question the guy. Meanwhile, a classroom of high school students happen to be in the building when the lock it down, and they talk with the staff and learn a lot about terrorism. They talk about how Islamic extremism hardly resembles Islam. They talk about how the problem isn’t Arabs, but people who are willing to use any means to enforce their will. They talk about the plight of the Afghan people. They talk about the roots of terrorism are poverty. They talk about how American pluralism is so different and important. Nearly nine years later, I don’t think we’ve learned these lessons well.

What really stuck me, this viewing of this show, was the questioning of the suspect. Nearly nine years later, I’m sure that it wouldn’t have been questioning. We would have hauled this guy away to some unknown room. We’ve decided that suspected terrorists don’t have rights. We don’t have to let them have a lawyer. We don’t have to have a reason to hold on to them. We can hit them, we can torture them, and it’s all okay. This guy was innocent. He happened to have the same name as a named terrorist; he wasn’t one himself. We currently have such innocents locked up in rooms that official don’t exist. We whisk people off to unlisted sites and hold on to them until we feel like letting them go. Or, if we’re feeling weak stomached, we ship them off to allies who have even fewer qualms than we do. Proof isn’t required. When did we decide this was okay?

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