Monday, June 14, 2010

Proud to Be an American--Almost

Lately, Kira has been asking a lot of questions about whatever happens to be on the radio when she and I get into the car for adventures on the mornings Nicole teaches. Apparently, she's got a pretty good memory for what she learns: in the evenings before I get home from work, she's been lecturing Nicole and her Barbies on things like the impact of the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico on fishermen and the fears of regional economic ripple effects.

Today, the voices in the radio were explaining why the U.S. really has no choice but to push for stronger economic sanctions against Iran. Kira asked me if this had anything to do with the "emergency in the ocean by Florida." I said no. She asked if it was about another emergency. I said sort of, and explained that a country sort of by India "probably wants to build a dangerous weapon, and our country doesn't like that." She asked why they would do that, and I explained that Iranian leaders are "probably afraid we want to fight them." She asked why some more, and what about this and that some more, until I found myself explaining that when her mama was born, Iran was ruled by a mean king who sometimes put people who said bad things about him in prison and poked them with sharp sticks (how do you explain SAVAK to a five-year-old?), and that some of them died. I then explained that when her mama was still a baby, the people decided to fight the king, and won--but ended up with another scary guy in charge who also did bad things to people he didn't like. Kira said she didn't like that, and said that people there don't either. She asked what language they speak, and I told her it's called Farsi, and that the best Farsi poems are supposed to be some of the most beautiful on earth. She asked if I spoke Farsi, and I told her no, but that her uncle Matt had taken a Farsi class.

She stopped asking questions, then, and just processed for a moment. I thought about the many countries in the world where it's been normal, at this time or that in recent history, for people suspected of dissidence to just disappear. And I felt incredibly grateful to live in the United States, where things like that don't happen.

But then tonight, I read the news. Apparently, in 2002 the United States detained a Syrian-born Canadian named Maher Arar who had made it onto a terrorism suspect list based on shoddy, inaccurate evidence. Instead of deporting Arar back to Canada, the United States decided to deport Arar against his wishes to Syria, where he spent the next 10 1/2 months being tortured--which may be exactly what our government wanted. Eventually, he made it back to Canada, where he was cleared by a government probe and formally apologized to. The United States, however, is keeping Arar on its terrorist suspects list and refusing to disclose why or admit any wrongdoing.

Now, it is theoretically possible that the U.S. has good evidence that Canada is wrong, and that Arar is a terrorist. It is also theoretically possible that Arar was sent to Syria as a simple clerical error, and not as a way of outsourcing torture. I think it's more likely, however, that he is the innocent, regular guy Canada now publicly states that he is, but the United States prefers to hide behind the alibi of "state secrets" rather than explain in public what wrong we may have done.

I still think that America is a great country, but it's hard to be as proud to be an American tonight as it was in the car this morning. Are we always just a step or two away from being another country so paranoid it's willing to let people "disappear"?


  1. "Obama’s Justice Department told the Supreme Court that Arar’s case remained too secret for justice, and that the U.S. law offers no recourse for him."

    There's something fishy with the whole idea of anything being "too secret for justice."

  2. Also, rounding up legal aliens post 9/11. My cousin's Tongan legal immigrant husband was arrested with other "questionable" people...this was 2001 or 2, I can't remember the year for sure, but he and other "threats" to America disappeared. It took Denise, her parents and their attorneys a couple of months to get disclosure about where he even was taken(Arizona--where the judge was known to be particularly harsh) and a few more months to get his name cleared. Meanwhile, Denise had to support her family and keep her sanity. I was not impressed.

  3. That is scary. It's a good think society is organized into families, churches, etc., as well as governments so that there are different networks to fall back on when one does something crazy.

  4. Someone should remind Mr. Obama that justice is blind, and as such is very good at seeing even hidden things.

    "Too secret for justice" reminds me of "too big to fail," except it sounds a lot scarier. They both make me want to shout "says who?"


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