Sunday, September 24, 2006

They don't give a damn about our freedom

In the years since 9/11 we have become accustomed to a War on Terrorism that does not include the prosecution of terrorists as criminals. That wasn't always the case, after the 1993 World Trade Center bombing the Clinton administration hunted down, captured, prosecuted and convicted all the principal conspirators in the bombing - every single one of whom is now serving a life sentence in federal prison.

The Bush administration did bring one would be terrorist to traditional justice - Richard Reid, the "Shoe Bomber". He was found guilty and sentenced in 2003 to life plus 130 years. Judge William Young made the following extraordinary statement in his sentencing comments:

This is the sentence that is provided for by our statutes. It is a fair and a just sentence. It is a righteous sentence. Let me explain this to you.

We are not afraid of any of your terrorist co-conspirators, Mr. Reid. We are Americans. We have been through the fire before. There is all too much war talk here. And I say that to everyone with the utmost respect.

Here in this court where we deal with individuals as individuals, and care for individuals as individuals, as human beings we reach out for justice.

You are not an enemy combatant. You are a terrorist. You are not a soldier in any war. You are a terrorist. To give you that reference, to call you a soldier gives you far too much stature. Whether it is the officers of government who do it or your attorney who does it, or that happens to be your view, you are a terrorist.

And we do not negotiate with terrorists. We do not treat with terrorists. We do not sign documents with terrorists.

We hunt them down one by one and bring them to justice.

So war talk is way out of line in this court. You're a big fellow. But you're not that big. You're no warrior. I know warriors. You are a terrorist. A species of criminal guilty of multiple attempted murders.

In a very real sense Trooper Santiago had it right when first you were taken off that plane and into custody and you wondered where the press and where the TV crews were and he said you're no big deal. You're no big deal.

What your counsel, what your able counsel and what the equally able United States attorneys have grappled with and what I have as honestly as I know how tried to grapple with, is why you did something so horrific. What was it that led you here to this courtroom today? I have listened respectfully to what you have to say. And I ask you to search your heart and ask yourself what sort of unfathomable hate led you to do what you are guilty and admit you are guilty of doing.

And I have an answer for you. It may not satisfy you. But as I search this entire record it comes as close to understanding as I know.

It seems to me you hate the one thing that to us is most precious. You hate our freedom. Our individual freedom. Our individual freedom to live as we choose, to come and go as we choose, to believe or not believe as we individually choose.

I agree with most of what Judge Young so eloquently said.

It is proof that terrorists can and should be treated as criminals. Not promoted to supervillians who's very existence requires us to sacrifice our liberties just to cling to our own safety.

The only thing I disagree with the judge upon is the notion that the terrorists hate our freedom.

They don't give a damn about us - and they certainly don't give a damn about our freedom.

They aren't trying to change how we live in America - except for taking pleasure in our fear - they are lashing out at us for all the wrongs they feel they or their people have suffered - most imagined, some real. Yes, they'd like to break our spirit. But mostly they just don't give a damn about us.

They don't give a damn about us.

What they really want is to win the hearts and minds of the people in their homelands. They are too weak and too impoverished of spirit to do it through good works, education and inspiration. So they do it by inciting fear of the other, by exalting in taking revenge against a bogeyman they invent.

Look at Hezbollah. Shooting 4000 missiles into Israel did nothing to make Lebanon more free, more prosperous, or less threatened by the Jewish state. Indeed it only brought destruction and hardship upon their homeland. But it was successful because it represented a futile swipe at a hated bogeyman - Hezbollah became immensely more popular despite bringing nothing but pain and ruin to Lebanon. Ironically there is another side of Hezbollah, separate from the terrorists, that provides social services, schooling, medical services and reconstruction aid. That Hezbollah could have made Lebanon a better country, instead it is now tasked with treating the wounds inflicted by the terrorist wing. Those terrorists made life much worse for the Lebanese people, for no good reason, but they became heroes.

That is what a terrorist triumph looks like.

The Al Qaeda attack on America was a dismal failure. It didn't break our spirit. It didn't gladden the world at the humbling of a bogeyman. It did the opposite. The world stood with us. In all its diversity the world stood with us in unity. Even the Islamic world stood with us - large crowds gathered spontaneously in Iran to stand in solidarity with the people of America at candlelight vigils. Only a very few people in the entire Muslim world celebrated, most stood up and called us brother.

9/11 was al-Qaeda's most colossal misjudgment. It took billions of dollars, thousands of lives, and years of breathtaking stupidity, megalomania, mendacity, and malice for George Bush to turn Osama Bin Laden's monumental failure into a success.

You see, what George W. Bush wanted to do was win the hearts and minds of the people of America. He was too weak and too impoverished of spirit to do it through good works, education and inspiration. So he did it by inciting fear of the foreigner, by lashing out almost randomly and exalting in taking revenge against a bogeyman.

For a time it worked.

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