Big Anniversaries That Remind Us of America's Dark Side -- Abu Graib, USA Patriot Act, My Lai Massacre -- Slipped by Too Easily
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It’s true that, last week, few in Congress cared to discuss, no less memorialize, the 10th anniversary of the invasion of Iraq. Nonetheless, two anniversaries of American disasters and crimes abroad -- the “mission accomplished” debacle of 2003 and the 45th anniversary of the My Lai massacre -- were at least noted in passing in our world. In my hometown paper, the New York Times, the Iraq anniversary was memorialized with a lead op-ed by a former advisor to General David Petraeus who, amid the rubble, went in search of all-American “ silver linings.”
Still, in our post-9/11 world, there are so many other anniversaries from hell whose silver linings don’t get noticed. Take this April. It will be the ninth anniversary of the widespread release of the now infamous photos of torture, abuse, and humiliation from Abu Ghraib. In case you’ve forgotten, that was Saddam Hussein’s old prison where the U.S. military taught the fallen Iraqi dictator a trick or two about the destruction of human beings. Shouldn’t there be an anniversary of some note there? I mean, how many cultures have turned dog collars (and the dogs that go with them), thumbs-up signs over dead bodies, and a mockery of the crucified Christ into screensavers?
Or to pick another not-to-be-missed anniversary that, strangely enough, goes uncelebrated here, consider the passage of the USA Patriot Act, that ten-letter acronym for “Uniting and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism”? This October 26th will be the 11th anniversary of the hurried congressional vote on that 363-page ( essentially unread) document filled with right-wing hobbyhorses and a range of provisions meant to curtail American liberties in the name of keeping us safe from terror. “Small government” Republicans and “big government” Democrats rushed to support it back then. It passed in the Senate in record time by 98-1, with only Russ Feingold in opposition, and in the House by 357-66 -- and so began the process of taking the oppressive powers of the American state into a new dimension. It would signal the launch of a world of ever-expanding American surveillance and secrecy (and it would be renewed by the Obama administration at its leisure in 2011).
Or what about celebrating the 12th anniversary of Congress’s Authorization for Use of Military Force, the joint resolution that a panicked and cowed body passed on September 14, 2001? It wasn’t a declaration of war -- there was no one to declare war on -- but an open-ended grant to the president of the unfettered power to use “all necessary and appropriate force” in what would become a never-ending (and still expanding) “Global War on Terror.”
Or how about the 11th anniversary on January 11th -- like so many such moments, it passed unnoted -- of the establishment of the Guantanamo Bay detention camp, that jewel in the crown of George W. Bush’s offshore Bermuda Triangle of injustice, with its indefinite detention of the innocent and the guilty without charges, its hunger strikes, and abuses, and above all its remarkable ability to embed itself in our world and never go away? Given that, on much of the rest of the planet, Guantanamo is now an icon of the post-9/11 American way of life, on a par with Mickey Mouse and the Golden Arches, shouldn’t its anniversary be noted?
And then, of course, there are the little anniversaries from hell that Americans could care less about -- those that have to do with slaughter abroad. If you wanted to, you could organize these by the military services. As last year ended, for instance, no one marked the 11th anniversary of the first Afghan wedding party to be wiped out by the U.S. Air Force. (In late December 2001, a B-52 and two B-1B bombers, using precision-guided weapons, eradicated a village of celebrants in eastern Afghanistan; only two of 112 villagers reportedly survived.) Nor in May will anyone here mark the ninth anniversary of an American air strike that took outwedding celebrants in the western Iraqi desert near the Syrian border, killing more than 40 of them.