Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Why do we live in shameful silence?

Guilt is the assumption of responsibility for violating stated or presumed values of right and wrong behavior. Shame is the pervasive perception of being entirely unacceptable and fundamentally damaged at core. As children, we feel guilty if we took cookies without permission; we feel shame if we are irredeemably flawed: thieves who can't ever respect mother's ownership of the cookiejar.

As adults, our sense of guilt and shame are embedded in our psyches, enabling us to conform to the basic values of society. By virtue of our American citizenship, our fundamental behavioral expectations are generally governed by the rights, freedoms, and obligations set forth in the Constitution.

For more than 200 years, Americans have upheld this honorable system. Our elected representatives codify these values with legislation that enables everyone to understand our rights and obligates the correction of any wrongs; and the President must concur to authorize these laws to take effect. Our courts review alleged transgressions, determine violations, and order corrective measures; and it is the right and responsibility of every citizen to ensure that abuse of our values is adjudicated promptly.

As a nation principled in this judicial equality, it is a fundamental founding right of every accused individual to be charged under law and brought to timely trial. Even during times of prejudice and adversity, detainment was lawfully managed. Yet for the past decade, Americans have tolerated egregious violations of this rule of law.

Shamefully today, America remains guilty of depriving thousands of prisoners of their Constitutional and human rights. By indefinitely incarcerating prisoners without charge in inhumane conditions, even subjecting them to torture, America has not only violated international standards, we have violated our own stated laws of rightful behavior.

Even worse, we Americans have allowed our nation to become fundamentally damaged at core. We have tolerated behavior that ignores our own rules of law and the Constitution's system of checks and balances. In fear-induced capitulation, we disregarded our constitutional values, and for ten years, we have perpetuated that shame by allowing Guantánamo prison to operate outside American law and without international sanction.

Torture, indefinite incarceration, and deprivation of human and legal rights are not American values. Keeping this prison operational is a visible and disreputable reminder of our national guilt and shame. Perpetuating this travesty of constitutional justice is not only immoral and illegal, it is counterproductive if America ever wants to reclaim its standing as a model of democracy in action.

On this shameful anniversary of America's most costly human rights catastrophe, Amnesty International points out, 
"There is a simple solution to closing Guantánamo – either charge detainees and give them a fair trial in US federal court, or release them."

It's time to overcome your shame and become proactively pro-American again. Support Amnesty International's human chain of protest in Washington DC: add your signature to the petition to close Guantánamo.
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