Fourth of July

If I had any doubt we're actively creating the next wave of terrorists and fueling their hatred of America, I choked when I read this New York Times Article.

Here's an excerpt:

The journalist Seymour Hersh wrote last month in the British newspaper The Guardian that a memo addressed to Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld shortly after the 2001 invasion reported "800-900 Pakistani boys 13-15 years of age in custody." Juvenile detainees in American facilities like Abu Ghraib and Bagram Air Base have been subject to the same mistreatment as adults. The International Red Cross, Amnesty International and the Pentagon itself have gathered substantial testimony of torture of children, bolstered by accounts from soldiers who witnessed or participated in the abuse.

According to Amnesty International, 13-year-old Mohammed Ismail Agha was arrested in Afghanistan in late 2002 and detained without charge or trial for over a year, first at Bagram and then at Guantánamo Bay. He was held in solitary confinement and subjected to sleep deprivation. "Whenever I started to fall asleep, they would kick at my door and yell at me to wake up," he told an Amnesty researcher. "They made me stand partway, with my knees bent, for one or two hours."

A Canadian, Omar Khadr, was 15 in 2002 when he was captured in Afghanistan and interned at Guantánamo. For 2½ years, he was allowed no contact with a lawyer or with his family. Seventeen-year-old Akhtar Mohammed told Amnesty that he was kept in solitary confinement in a shipping container for eight days in Afghanistan in January 2002.

A Pentagon investigation last year by Maj. Gen. George Fay reported that in January 2004, a leashed but unmuzzled military guard dog was allowed into a cell holding two children. The intention was for the dog to " 'go nuts on the kids,' barking and scaring them." The children were screaming and the smaller one tried to hide behind the larger, the report said, as a soldier allowed the dog to get within about one foot of them. A girl named Juda Hafez Ahmad told Amnesty International that when she was held in Abu Ghraib she "saw one of the guards allow his dog to bite a 14-year-old boy on the leg."

Brig. Gen. Janis Karpinski, formerly in charge of Abu Ghraib, told Maj. General Fay about visiting a weeping 11-year-old detainee in the prison's notorious Cellblock 1B, which housed prisoners designated high risk. "He told me he was almost 12," General Karpinski recalled, and that "he really wanted to see his mother, could he please call his mother."

Children like this 11 year old held at Abu Ghraib have been denied the right to see their parents, a lawyer, or anyone else. They were not told why they were detained, let alone for how long. A Pentagon spokesman told Mr. Hersh that juveniles received some special care, but added, "Age is not a determining factor in detention." The United States has found, the spokesman said, that "age does not necessarily diminish threat potential."

It's true that some of these children may have picked up a stone or a gun. But coalition intelligence officers told the Red Cross that 70 percent to 90 percent of detainees in Iraq are eventually found innocent and released. Many innocent children are swept up with their parents in chaotic nighttime dragnets based on tips from unreliable informants. "We know of children under 15," Clarisa Bencomo of Human Rights Watch told me, " held for over a year at Guantánamo Bay, whom the government later said were not security risks."

I've always thought Democracy means we all share some responsibility for the actions of our country and our elected president - more so than in any monarchy, theocracy, or communist state. Whether you align yourself with the Republican or Democrat party is irrelevant. This kind of tragedy is something I expect to hear about some corrupt tyranny in another hemisphere. After reading this, I'm ashamed and embarrassed for my country and unfortunately this hasn't been the first time I've been so embarrassed recently.

I expect Americans will continue to make excuses about this: ("the military has some loose cannons acting on their own", "these are justifiable casualties in the war on terrorism", "the media spins everything and this is surely exaggerated"), but I'd much prefer that we stop being moral hypocrites, face the fact that we have responsibilities as citizens of this democracy, and act.

Happy Fourth of July. I'm going to celebrate Independence Day by writing my Senator, Representative, Governor, and President and encourage you to do the same. It's probably the best way I can think of to celebrate: by exercising the rights citizens of other countries don't have. I encourage you to be politically active and change things for the better, however you define it.

Posted on July 4, 2005 in politics . | 1089 Trackbacks, 0 Comments

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