Are you being tested?

“I’m not a coward, I’ve just never been tested. I’d like to think that if I was I would pass.”

          The Mighty Mighty Bosstones, “The Impression that I Get”

Even the most jingoistic of American apologists recognizes that there have been some dark episodes in our history – slavery, Japanese internment camps, and Jim Crow laws come to mind. For most of us, though, these horrors occurred to long ago for us to have done much about them. It isn’t our fault we were born so late. If we had been around when this stuff was going on, we’d have done something about it. Probably.

The thing is, when these crimes were being perpetrated, it wasn’t at all clear to the average person what was going on, and it was even less apparent what one could be expected to do about them. There were plenty of apologists for these policies in the government and the media of the day; the typical citizen could be forgiven for thinking that no grave injustices were being committed, and that the severity of the problem was being overblown by a few misfit agitators.

The question arises, then: how would you know if something like that was going on today? The obvious answer is that you’d have to consider the historic biases of the news media and the government, look for other sources of information, and come to your own conclusions on the matter.

For example, here are some facts you may not have heard on the “news”:

·         There are currently 166 men imprisoned at Guantanamo.

·         Approximately 70% of these men are in solitary confinement or isolation.

·         Virtually none have ever been charged, and most will never be charged or tried.

·         More than half of the prisoners have been cleared for release.

·         The conditions of their confinement have been held by a federal judge to “press the outer bounds of what most humans can psychologically tolerate.” The conditions constitute cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment that violates internationally accepted standards of humane treatment, as well as U.S. law.

·         Many of the prisoners have entered week 5 of a hunger strike to protest their abhorrent conditions. (The people running the prison deny the hunger strike is going on. They also refuse to allow independent observers to inspect the prison and have described solitary confinement as “like having their own apartment.”)

Congratulations! If you’ve gotten this far, you’re more informed than the vast majority of mainstream news watchers. Now you’ve got a decision to make. You can:

(1)    Ignore these facts and go on with your life.

(2)    Rationalize them away. If you’re interested in this course of action, I suggest dehumanizing the prisoners in your mind. This phrase will come in handy: “They wouldn’t be there if they weren’t guilty of something.” Here’s another good one: “Terrible things happen in war. There’s just no way around it.” Also: “Well, we can’t let them go now, after what we’ve done to them!”

(3)    Get seriously pissed off that this sort of thing is going on in the Land of the Free.

Make no mistake; these abuses are going on precisely because ordinary people aren’t complaining loudly enough. If we let our leaders know this is unacceptable, they will find a solution.

Contact your congressperson.

Write to President Obama.

Other ideas: post to Facebook and/or Twitter and write a letter to your local newspaper. Great things can happen when you get other people talking about something. Case in point: I mentioned the Guantanamo hunger strike on Facebook yesterday and my friend the Ironic Catholic organized an event called A Bunch of Catholics Blogging to Close Guantanamo. Here are some posts from participants:

Thinking About Hunger Strikes (a Close Gitmo Blog-in post)

BREAK: A Message From the Front Lines of “Operation Enduring Travesty” UPDATE

Nothing That Concerns You Has Happened

Close Gitmo

Do You Remember Bobby Sands? [Gitmo Blog-Around]