Category Archives: Terrorists

Our Shame and Our Pride

This Sunday, August 5, 2012, the news was dominated by two American events that could not be more different, but both of which express aspects of our American culture. Daytime news was dominated by an attack on a Sikh temple in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Sikhs might look Arabic to someone, but, if you watched The English Patient, or if you know your world religions, you know that India probably has the largest Sikh population. Yet a lone gunman who police now suspect of being a white supremacist with a “hate” agenda appeared at this church on a Sunday morning as people were arriving to worship and shot at least six people and then shot two policemen. Did he hate Sikhs; I doubt it. This man may be mentally ill, but he does not fall under that category of shooter. The problem he represents to American society is about a combination of freedom and frustration, and, perhaps, ignorance. Was he a member of a group of domestic terrorists or was he a lone political extremist with an axe to grind. We learned this Monday morning that he was discharged from the service in 1990 for “patterns of misconduct” whatever that means. It probably means that the army knew he was a misfit, with some seriously unusual beliefs and yet he was not tagged for any kind of observation. I wish I believed that our government doesn’t “watch” American citizens sometimes, just to see what they are up to, but I think some people are on the government’s radar. Why wasn’t Wade Michael Page?
Wade Page was shot to death at the site of his “military operation” so we will not ever hear what he has to say unless he left a trail in his home or his computer which will soon be revealed. Apparently he was not doing anything illegal until he walked onto the Sikh temple property and opened fire so even if he had been under government observation there is probably no way he could have been stopped. So what do we do about a man like Mr. Page who could kill us anytime he took a dislike to us. We probably can’t do anything about the Wade Michael Pages who live in America without destroying the very freedom we believe in. All we can do is share the grief of the Sikh community and find out as much information as possible about Wade Page. Perhaps we can find a balance between our love of freedom and our instincts that are against allowing domestic terrorists room to operate in America, but, maybe we can’t.
The second news that dominated TV on Sunday was speculation about whether a Mars rover named Curiosity, a little science lab about the size and weight of a small SUV, would land successfully in the Gale Crater on Mars at 1:31 am Monday morning. Guess what America; we’ve got this! The landing was a great success and if you were watching in the small hours of the  night you could have wooted with the NASA landing team who celebrated at their equipment modules. So America grieved all day and celebrated all night and it was a fairly atypical American Sunday, our shame and our pride on clear view all within a period of about 12 hours.

Having Our Cake and Eating it Too

What to do with the terrorism inmates, especially those in Guantanamo, has been an ongoing dilemma that almost no one in America knows how to solve. We believe in the civil rights of all people and we hate to compromise the ideals of America by violating anyone’s civil rights (which include the rights to be considered innocent until proven guilty, the right to a speedy trial, and the right to an appropriate sentence in the case of conviction). Because of what we value for ourselves it feels wrong to put people in jail indefinitely without a trial as we seem to have done in the case of the inmates at Guantanamo.
But we also live in a post 9/11 world where we have experienced the unthinkable, an attack by a foreign group on American soil. Except for Pearl Harbor, which happened within the context of a world war, we have never experienced such an attack. The attacks of 9/11 brought us grief, and anger and fear, pride in the heroism of ordinary Americans, and an intense sense of patriotism. The fear, the grief, and the anger speak to the dilemma we have when it comes to Guantanamo. It seems wrong to set people loose who tried to bring America to its knees and who may still be sworn enemies who will try to bring us to grief again; but it also goes against the grain to hold them without trial.
At various times there have been suggestions that these “detainees” be transferred to other venues and tried; recently NYC was mentioned. Congress is now trying to pass a bill calling for a plan to make the military responsible for trying terrorists. Opponents have some problems with this process. In the NYT’s Scott Shane says that “military tribunals have proved excruciatingly slow and imprisonment at Guantanamo hugely costly – $800,000 per inmate a year, compared with $25,000 in federal prison. Other articles I have read felt that civilian agencies would lose access to valuable intelligence if control was given to the military. Homegrown terrorists have been dealt with in our courts and are serving long sentences in federal prisons. The prisoners in Guantanamo and future terrorists arrested by America are the focus of this new plan.
Although we can understand the objections to trying these terrorist in military courts we still are left with our civil rights’ issues and our fear issues. Knowing what we don’t want to happen does not necessarily tell us what we do want to happen. Will we recognize the correct approach when someone finally designs it? What we really want is to keep these terrorists as prisoners indefinitely without violating American ethics, we want to have our cake and eat if too. Maybe there is no way to be the good guys and the bad guys at the same time.
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