I live in America, the land of the free and the home of the brave, and its free, brave soldiers are everywhere on the march killing people to liberate them in Iraq, protecting hand-picked dictators while allowing narco-terrorists to flourish all across Afghanistan and Pakistan, and doing the darkest possible work imaginable in Colombia, which would be front page news if they weren’t bleeding to death in the cities and sands of Iraq by the hundreds every month. I am looking at a broken-back negative of what it means to be an American. I am an American in a tortured state.

I live in America in the 21st century and after 228 years of democracy it has taken less than four to go slip-sliding into something that sets the teeth on edge and the soul to tears. I live in a country that charters private jets to fly prisoners to other countries to be tortured. I live in a country that has created a gulag of prisoners where the unspeakable is done to people under our protection — which is what prisoners are: people completely under the protection of whoever has control of them. I live in a country where the attorney general designate thinks that protections against torture are quaint, and the former ambassador to the United Nations once presided over death squads in Central America — now he presides over torture in Iraq. What manner of people would think so little of human life as to allow someone with so much blood on his hands to not only return to public life but decide the fate of an entire country? The answer sadly is, us, Americans, and it tortures the soul to know such is so.

I live in a country where the first island of an archipelago of “ghost detainees,” child rape, murder and psychological pressure, which the International Red Cross calls torture, is located in another country as part of a plan to allow torture to take place. The knowledge that the man who will one day be guarding my civil liberties, all of our civil liberties, has such a blatant disregard for life — as shown by his treatment of other prisoners in Texas when he sent them to their deaths without a hint of compassion, withholding even evidence of innocence — tortures my certainty that justice will be either done or protected not just in Guantanamo but right here in America as well.

I live in America and I am an American. I live in a land where people like Poindexter, Abrams, Negroponte, Wolfowitz, Perle, Feith, Rumsfeld, Bush, Cheney, Tenet, Cambone, Gonzales, Powell, Sanchez, Miller, Karpinski and others have decided that America should be a torture state and the first victim of torture is always the truth. You cannot tell a free people that you plan to use their name and prestige to break the bodies and souls of others for profit and the dream of Dr. No — the control of the entire world, a global empire built on the ruthless application of power for the greater good and to hell with morals and ethics which are distractions and preoccupations for the weak and fearful. So they didn’t tell us. They just acted, and now that is who we are, the strongest torture state since the Roman Empire, and there is no force on the globe that can stand up to us anywhere at this moment in time. Where will our ambition stop, what is our ambition and who are we now that we are no longer the land of the free and the home of the brave? What tortured reflection are we going to see looking back at us through the dark mirror in which we are now trapped?

I am an American, living in America, the home of the free and the land of the brave and I do not wish to live in a torture state any longer. It is up to us to find some way to free our country and in doing so the entire world from the whims of people who have no respect for the sanctity of human life and even less for the very principles on which our country was founded. And because we are brave and at this point still free I believe that light will prevail.

Don Washington (jorhan@yahoo.com) is associate director of the Community Renewal Society in Chicago and the keeper of two large and mischievous cats.