That gave them carte blanche.
The benefits of holding Bush Administration officials beyond the rule of law should not be dismissed, for they are real. What Americans got, in return for that moral concession, was the assurance that the men we empowered to govern us would err on the side of our safety when forced to decide whether they should imprison or kill a possibly innocent man or let him go. Americans benefited in short-term safety when their government imprisoned people without really knowing whether they were guilty or not, and the short-term costs were born almost totally by foreigners and their families, whose Orwellian hell never troubled the rest of us.
It was, for those lacking a conscience, a good system.
But for Americans with a conscience who troubled themselves to confront what was being done in their name, it was an immoral system rife with victims whose names most people would never know.
This week, one of those names -- Lakhdar Boumediene -- told his story in The New York Times. He recounts the seven years he spent as an innocent prisoner at Guantanamo Bay. Every American citizen ought to read his account, for it forces us to confront the costs of the policies our representatives implemented.
For seven years he was held without explanation or charge. Here is the shortest excerpt I can bring myself to quote from his op-ed:
During that time my daughters grew up without me. They were toddlers
when I was imprisoned, and were never allowed to visit or speak to me by
phone. Most of their letters were returned as "undeliverable," and the
few that I received were so thoroughly and thoughtlessly censored that
their messages of love and support were lost. Some American politicians say that people at Guantánamo are terrorists,
but I have never been a terrorist. Had I been brought before a court
when I was seized, my children's lives would not have been torn apart,
and my family would not have been thrown into poverty. It was only after
the United States Supreme Court ordered the government to defend its actions before a federal judge that I was finally able to clear my name and be with them again.
I left Algeria in 1990 to work abroad. In 1997 my family and I moved to
Bosnia and Herzegovina at the request of my employer, the Red Crescent
Society of the United Arab Emirates. I served in the Sarajevo office as
director of humanitarian aid for children who had lost relatives to
violence during the Balkan conflicts. In 1998, I became a Bosnian
citizen. We had a good life, but all of that changed after 9/11.
When I arrived at work on the morning of Oct. 19, 2001, an intelligence
officer was waiting for me. He asked me to accompany him to answer
questions. I did so, voluntarily -- but afterward I was told that I could
not go home. The United States had demanded that local authorities
arrest me and five other men. News reports at the time said the United
States believed that I was plotting to blow up its embassy in Sarajevo. I
had never -- for a second -- considered this.
The fact that the United States had made a mistake was clear from the
beginning. Bosnia's highest court investigated the American claim, found
that there was no evidence against me and ordered my release. But
instead, the moment I was released American agents seized me and the
five others. We were tied up like animals and flown to Guantánamo, the
American naval base in Cuba. I arrived on Jan. 20, 2002.
I still had faith in American justice. I believed my captors would
quickly realize their mistake and let me go. But when I would not give
the interrogators the answers they wanted -- how could I, when I had done
nothing wrong? -- they became more and more brutal. I was kept awake for
many days straight. I was forced to remain in painful positions for
hours at a time. These are things I do not want to write about; I want
only to forget. I went on a hunger strike for two years because no one would tell me why
I was being imprisoned. Twice each day my captors would shove a tube up
my nose, down my throat and into my stomach so they could pour food
into me. It was excruciating, but I was innocent and so I kept up my
When the Supreme Court finally ruled that this man must be given a hearing before a judge -- when a federal judge finally examined the secret evidence against him -- he was ordered set free. George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, David Addington, John Yoo, Marc Theissen. Those are names of men who unapologetically defend the system that resulted in Mr. Boumediene's Orwellian nightmare.