I'm not making this up. Schroen recalls his superior at the CIA, Cofer Black, using these words: "I would like to see the head of bin Laden delivered back to me in a heavy cardboard box filled with dry ice, and I will take that down and show the President. And the rest of the [al Qaeda] lieutenants, you can put their heads on pikes."
Of course, immediately, Schroen backpedals, saying, "I don't believe he meant that in detail."
Gee, Gar... I don't know... "head of bin Laden... heavy cardboard box... dry ice... lieutenants' heads on pikes." That's pretty gosh darned detailed. There's really only one thing left to ask after that kind of order.
"Would you like fries with that?"
In the days and weeks following September 11, 2001, something amazing happened to the American people. We were a little nicer to each other, a little more unified, a little more spiritual. At the same time, something terrible and frightening happened as well. We were a little more xenophobic, a little less tolerant, a little more openly bigoted and prejudiced. We experienced collective fear. Our response to that fear was that we gave ourselves permission. Permission to hate foreigners. Permission to rape the First Amendment. Permission to indulge ourselves in a quagmire of ugly, useless emotionalism and rhetoric. Permission to allow our leaders to do whatever they wanted to do, just so long as it made us feel safe again. No holds barred.
Fear is a powerful driver, especially in a people who are not accustomed to being afraid. We've won all our wars. (Well, okay, there was that Viet Nam thing, but technically, we never declared war there, so it doesn't really count, right? Viet What?) But the question that I have to ask is, how far are we really willing to go to make that fear manageable? When did we give ourselves permission to stop being human beings? At the end of the day, if you walk away from your humanity, what do you have left? It's not as though, when you become a mean-ass son of a bitch, you suddenly turn invulnerable. Terrorists can still kill your sorry behind. You just die with less of your spirit intact.
When did we as a people make the tacit agreement to sacrifice our decency in a quest for safety? Did I miss that vote? Because, really, I'd like a recount. I'm all for safety, if it's possible, but I have news for you. It's not possible. In a free society, there's always danger. Danger from terrorists, danger from outlandish opinions, danger from criminals. We don't arrest people for crimes they haven't committed, and when we do arrest them, we have certain procedures that we follow to see that justice is done. We read people their rights. We don't beat them while in custody. We don't get to torture or maim them. We don't get to decapitate them and put their heads in cardboard boxes full of dry ice, so we can show the President what good little boys we were in Afghanistan. (And, by the way, how long do you think Bush could keep his lunch down in the presence of a decapitated head -- even bin Laden's. I'm betting about 45 seconds before he yaks, then goes cryin' to his momma.)
We did make an agreement on how we were going to behave, regardless of whether the rest of the world followed suit. We did it on another September day -- the 17th, to be exact -- in 1787. We called it the United States Constitution. People who came before us, people who had survived war and oppression and invasion, and knew a little something about fear, drafted this document and signed it, adopting it as the code by which we would live.
I'm not sure where we gave ourselves permission to live otherwise, but I hereby revoke said permission forthwith. There will be no decapitation and dry ice packing of heads on my watch. There will be no sacrificing of our humanity and spirit simply for the sake of feeling a safety that was never reasonable or real.