Bombing hysteria led to call for actions that violate our own ideals
Now that the media have moved the Boston Marathon bombing off of the front page and replaced it with such breathtaking stories as the possibility that the Riggis of Saratoga and their 35 dogs may join the ranks of other vapid reality shows, it might be time to reflect on the mass hysteria and overreaction to the bombing.
Our enemies must have been laughing, especially those who live in countries where bombs are a daily reality, at the idea of a manhunt for two bumbling brothers that shut down the 10th largest urban area in the United States. Called a lockdown, defi ned by Merriam-Webster as “the confinement of prisoners to their cells for all or most of the day as a temporary security measure,” it only guaranteed that the effect of the bombing would be much greater than the brothers Tsarnaev had anticipated.
Then there was the hype — the jumping to conclusions about who was responsible, with every podunk media outlet scrambling to find some local connection to the events in Boston, no matter how tenuous, meanwhile barely covering the fertilizer plant explosion in West, Texas, which killed fi ve times as many people as the Boston bombings and destroyed five blocks of buildings.
We still don’t know what caused the explosion in Texas, but I think we can safely say that even if it was not intentional, someone had to have violated safety rules or some regulatory body did not do its job, issues that concern our safety as much as terrorism does.
PLAYING BY THEIR RULES
Then there was the overreaction by our political leaders. Here in New York, State Sen. Greg Ball, chairman of the Senate Veterans, Homeland Security and Military Affairs committees, apparently believes that if you can’t beat the terrorists you should join them — if you can’t persuade them to see the beauties of the democractic system, then dump democracy.
“Terrorists play by a different set of rules . . .” he says.
Ball would apparently have us play by those same rules, destroying our way of life in an effort to protect it. I don’t know what other explanation there could be for his tweet and press release in which he stated that we should torture Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the surviving brother.
In his press release, Ball said, “One of the questions to be asked is this: Is ‘torture’ ever justifi ed in the war against terror, if it saves lives? I am not shy in joining those who say yes, and I believe we must give those tasked with protecting us every constitutional and effective tool to do so.”
Sen. Ball is not alone in his desire to torture Tsarnaev. An Amsterdam talk show host said the same thing, and I am sure there are thousands, if not millions, of people who agree.
Mind you, Tsarnaev’s situation doesn’t even remotely look like the ticking bomb scenario so often trotted out by pro-torture people to convince liberals and pro-gun, pro-life but anti-torture people like me of the rightness of waterboarding, sleep deprivation, solitary confinement, beatings and other wholesome and American-asmom-and-apple-pie activities.
Not only have normal, humane interrogation techniques already extracted information from Tsarnaev, but the idea that the brothers Tsarnaev were connected with some larger network of highly trained and sophisticated terrorists was laughable from Day One.
From not bothering to disguise their faces to hijacking a car that was almost out of gas to not tying up the driver, which enabled him to escape and call authorities, the brothers revealed how inept they were, unlike al-Qaida.
Congressman Peter King, from New York’s 2nd Congressional District, didn’t want Tsarnaev tortured, but he did want him interrogated without anyone reading him his Miranda rights. He also says Tsarnaev should be treated as an enemy combatant, which would disqualify him for all the constitutional rights of American citizenship.
The creation of a new class of citizens called enemy combatants, the use of indefinite detention, extraordinary rendition, outsourcing of torture, scaling back of Miranda rights, spying on people without search warrants, locking down a major American city with resulting economic loss, assassination of terrorist suspects who have never been charged with a crime, the prosecution of whistleblowers and the wholesale use of solitary confinement are destroying our way of life and accomplishing the terrorists’ goals for them.
In 1988, Ronald Reagan signed legislation apologizing for our internment of Japanese-Americans in World War II, 62 percent of whom were American citizens. The legislation stated that our government’s actions were based on “race prejudice, war hysteria, and a failure of political leadership.”
AIDING AND ABETTING
Hysteria and ill-advised and unconstitutional actions on the part of our political leaders, from George W. Bush and Barack Obama on the national level to State Sen. Ball and Congressman Peter King closer to home, are aiding and abetting terrorism. It’s not just terrorists who are at war with America, some of our political leaders, both Republican and Democrat, are as well.
We must hold terrorists accountable for their actions, but we must also hold our leaders accountable for words and actions that help fuel terrorism.
Daniel T. Weaver lives in Amsterdam and is a regular contributor to the Sunday Opinion section.