Memorial Day

Posted by on May 31st, 2008 and filed under Opinion. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry


I TOOK the opportunity this past Memorial Day to make a trip to Time Square in Manhattan for a leisurely stroll and perhaps spot any building landmarks that I may have overlooked in the past. During that time my mind regressed to a time when I was eight years old, staring upright at the tall buildings with such intensity that I almost fell backwards. My aunt, with whom I was walking at the time and who actually allowed me to visit New York for the first time, purchased a plane ticket (my parents couldn’t afford to buy me one). As I strolled around Times Square yesterday I couldn’t help but not notice a smattering of American servicemen walking around in groups of four or two, a seemingly insignificant ratio compared to the thousands of civilians walking to and fro to do whatever it is they intended to do; some shopped and some went to the movies; and the clear impression I gathered was that most civilians seemed indifferent to the servicemen and women of the American military.

I also gathered the impression that many Americans forgot the original meaning of Memorial Day.

Memorial Day, as recognized in the United States today, is a solemn tribute to the servicemen and women who lost their lives while fighting “to defend America’s freedom”. The wars I refer to are World Wars I and II, the Korean War, the Vietnam War and, currently, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. But the first instance of a “Memorial Day” is traced to the American Civil War, when then-president Abraham Lincoln struggled to unite a nation ripped apart by the “peculiar institution” of chattel slavery. The “Confederate states” – eleven Southern States whose leaders or protagonists favored an expansion of chattel slavery, began to secede to form their own government, while the “Union States” – numbering twenty-three – who were not part of the seceding Confederacy, held a strong aversion to chattel slavery expansion for the main reason that the enterprise was too costly. That this “peculiar institution” was immoral was, sadly, only secondary in importance.

According to Professor David Blight of Yale University’s Department of History, liberated slaves commemorated the “first Memorial Day” in 1865 at a former Confederate prison camp. Interestingly, both armies – the Union Army and the Confederate Army – routinely captured prisoners-of-war from either side, with the result that many captives on either side died of starvation. These liberated slaves transplanted dead Union soldiers (many of which were African-American) from mass graves to individual graves and fenced in the graveyard. Later they returned to the graveyard with flowers picked from the country-side and even decorated the graves.

I say all this to make some direct historical connection between what happened then and what is happening to all captured “terrorists-in-the-making” being held as “enemy combatants” by the Bush Administration. These prisoners are being held without due process as directed by American law and are languishing in prisons in Guantanamo Bay and in other Arab countries who are currently America’s staunchest allies. These prisoners may not have died through U.S. complicity, but we can safely say that many of these prisoners have been tortured.

Most importantly, we should remember those brave men and, possibly women, who occupy positions as F.B.I agents who actually saw military interrogators mistreat prisoners in ways that violate both American law and the Geneva Conventions, a U.N. treaty that authorize all nations to refrain from practicing torture. All this is chronicled in a voluminous report, submitted by the Inspector General of the Central Intelligence Agency. Since early 2002, many critics of the Bush Administration assert that high level officials in the American military, through the behest of the Bush Administration, have authorized the military to use of “enhanced interrogation techniques” on “enemy combatants”. It is no longer a secret that the military used “water-boarding” on Khalid Sheikh Mohammad, who supposedly confessed to plotting the attack on the World Trade Center in late 2001.

One memo reported that four F.B.I. agents saw an interrogator cuff two detainees and poured water down their throats. Another memo reported that F.B.I. agents saw prisoners at Guantanamo Bay shackled hand-to-foot for very long periods and being subjected to extreme heat and cold. One detainee at Guantanamo was kept in an isolation cell for at least two months. Some interrogations lasted for at least 18 hours at a stretch. On other occasions, military interrogators, posing as F.B.I. agents, wrapped terrorism suspects in Israeli flags and forced them to watch homosexual pornography.

Some may question why these F.B.I. agents chose not to participate in applying these interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects, one of them being that they don’t want to be prosecuted for war crimes. Besides, the Bush Administration and its bevy of lawyers are using legal “slide-rules” to circumvent anti-torture statutes and are drafting new legal proposals to avoid criminal liability for U.S. military personnel. Whatever the reason, I applaud those F.B.I. agents who chose not to degrade themselves in this despicable enterprise of torture. Most importantly, it is they whom Americans should remember on this past Memorial Day.

The writer is a recent revert to Islam and can be contacted at:

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