'Intelligent discontent is the mainspring of civilization.' -- Eugene V. Debs

Thursday, February 26, 2009

The Life and Times of Binyam Mohammed (Part 3) 

Barbara Ehrenreich responds to the discovery that her satirical article about how to make a hydrogen bomb with a bicycle pump, published in 1979, resulted in the indefinite detention and torture of Binyam Mohammed:

But post-9/11 America was an irony-free zone, and it's still illegal to banter about bombs in the presence of airport security staff. It's not clear how the news of Mohamed's H-bomb knowledge was conveyed to Washington--many documents remain classified or have not been released--but Smith speculates that the part about the H-bomb got through, although not the part about the joke. The result, anyhow, was that Mohamed was thrust into a world of unending pain--tortured at the US prison in Baghram, rendered to Morocco for eighteen months of further torture, including repeated cutting of his penis with a scalpel, and finally landing in Guantánamo for almost five years of more mundane abuse. He was just released and returned to Britain today.

As if that were not enough for a satirist to have on her conscience, the United States seems to have attributed Mohamed's presumed nuclear ambitions to a second man, an American citizen named Jose Padilla, a k a the "dirty bomber." The apparent evidence? Padilla had been scheduled to fly on the same flight out of Karachi that Mohamed had a ticket for, so obviously they must have been confederates. Commenting on Padilla's apprehension in 2002, the Chicago Sun-Times editorialized: "We castigate ourselves for failing to grasp the reality of what they're [the alleged terrorists are] trying to do, but perhaps that is a good thing. We should have difficulty staring evil in the face."

I am not histrionic enough to imagine myself in any way responsible for the torments suffered by Mohamed and Padilla--at least no more responsible than any other American who failed to rise up in revolutionary anger against the Bush terror regime. No, I'm too busy seething over another irony: whenever I've complained about my country's torturings, renderings, detentions, etc., there's always been some smug bastard ready to respond that these measures are what guarantee smart-alecky writers like myself our freedom of speech. Well, we had a government so vicious and impenetrably stupid that it managed to take my freedom of speech and turn it into someone else's living hell.

Perhaps, I shouldn't quibble, as Ehrenreich expresses her righteous outrage in such a compelling manner, but it would have been nice if she had acknowledged that the prospect of such horrors remain as the Obama administration has not undertaken measures to prevent them.

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