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I said I was Republican like my parents back when my classmates and I chanted “We like Ike,” as we stood in a line, anticipating the passage of a motorcade with Vice President Nixon inside. Any celebrity was a novelty in our small, remote Michigan town, and the vice president was an occasion. Nixon didn’t come—something about his flight into our tiny airport, so we trudged back to school. We weren’t terribly disappointed. My knees beneath my skirt were getting cold, anyway.
Once I started reading about various politicians, I decided I would be an Independent. Following a pack didn’t agree with me. I was beginning to notice that information was often edited according to the point, and being manipulated annoyed me. “All we want are the facts, ma’am,” was the famous line of Sgt. Joe Friday in the old TV series DRAGNET. The public lost its innocence during the Vietnam War when we were shocked to discover we had swallowed lies that killed many of our friends—government sanctioned lies. My parents wouldn’t believe our leaders or the news could ever be dishonest. They rejected any responsibility for sorting out the truth, which eventually made them—and me—vulnerable to the tales of WMDs and more.
After 9/11, the country felt united for a moment. We had bad guys to hate and they didn’t look like the majority of Americans. That should have been a warning. We appreciate villains who are as easy to spot as STAR WARS storm troopers in their shiny white uniforms—an advantage that reportedly harkens back to our spear throwing days. We’re often sloppy about making certain we have a villain before we react. To check ourselves, we approved what we designed as an impartial rule of law that was supposed to guard against blind emotional reactions, but as we have been forced to see recently, a law is only as helpful as its fairness, observance, respect, and enforcement. The so-called good guys are capable of heinous cruelty when the bow breaks.
In the case of THE MAURITANIAN (a multiple award-winning film depicting a true story), the U.S. government was anxious to have perpetrators to punish after 9/11 to satisfy the thirst for revenge Americans felt. The holding facility at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba was a perfect place to keep villains who seemed to be worthy of Marvel comics until their guilt could be proven and their executions performed. The problem was, and is, many of the detainees were/are only assumed to be guilty of participating in the attack due to their previous associations. There isn’t sufficient evidence to convict them in a court of law. The subject of the film was Mohamedou Ould Slahi, one such detainee who relied on God to support his innocence. Being detained is a nice way of saying imprisoned—indefinitely, without charges because there isn’t enough evidence to cite a charge. He was detained for over 14 years, even after he was exonerated, thanks to interference from then President Barack Obama. The American lawyers who worked for his release were accused of being traitors.
The horrific ongoing torture performed by U.S. Marines at Guantanamo, forcing confessions that wouldn’t hold up in court, was sanctioned by the White House and encouraged by Donald Rumsfeld. The facts didn’t support the cruelty, yet Guantanamo remains open to this day—supposedly without torture at the moment. The remaining inmates haven’t been charged with anything, but the public doesn’t care enough to force their freedom. The inmates are foreigners, after all, who seemingly could’ve been involved. They’re PROBABLY guilty.
A large segment of the American public still has an appetite for baseless lies that fit their prejudices. They support representatives who don’t serve their needs because they like the bluster of the candidates and their publicity. People sworn to uphold the Constitution openly plot to subvert it. THE MAURITANIAN is as difficult to watch as the Insurrection on January 6 and the politicization of our Supreme Court. We as Americans think of ourselves as keepers of fairness, goodness, and truth—even when it’s a lie. Certain news sources do their best to protect our manufactured illusions of purity, although we’re only human like everyone else on the planet. We have a dark side. One day we may forbid teaching about these present times as many are currently trying to forbid teaching the ugly facts about civil rights and the genocide of indigenous cultures. We don’t want to see ourselves like that. But can we learn from a past and present we deny?