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Opinion

The decade since 9/11 has eroded – and confirmed – American values

US actions over the past 10 years have called into question America’s commitment to justice, freedom, and respect for human rights. But the decade has also confirmed how resilient the country's democratic values really are.

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That is but one of the ways in which practices that would previously have been considered beyond the pale have become normative since 9/11. Whole body scans at airports, the New York City police collaborating with the CIA to spy on Muslim Americans, Predator missile strikes against American citizens (radical Islamist cleric Anwar al-Awlaki in Yemen) – all this has become almost routine. According to a Red Cross study, 60 percent of American teenagers say it is acceptable to torture prisoners of war, and more than half approve of killing them in cases where they had killed Americans. The Obama administration has maintained the option of “rendering” prisoners to foreign countries for interrogation.

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But in other respects, the past decade has witnessed the reinforcement of traditional norms. The Supreme Court set the pace in 2004 with its landmark decisions in Rasul v. Bush and Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, ruling that foreign nationals, even those labeled “illegal enemy combatants,” must have access to the courts to challenge their detention. Some of the most egregious provisions of the USA Patriot Act were modified in reauthorization. President Obama issued an executive order unequivocally outlawing the use of torture.

And former Vice President Cheney’s impassioned defense of waterboarding continues to draw rebuke from notable Republicans such as the party’s 2008 Presidential nominee, Sen. John McCain, who as recently as May 2011 condemned such “enhanced interrogation techniques” as “indisputably torture” and disavowed the notion that their use had led to the discovery of Osama Bin Laden.

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