Nobody of any age should be held in jail without a trial for three years. No child or adolescent should be held in an adult jail. Yet, a 16-year-old accused of stealing a backpack was kept in one of the most violent adult jails in the United States, Rikers Island in New York City, for three years without a trial. This was morally scandalous and inhumane. Even worse, he spent more than two years of that time in solitary confinement, locked up alone except to go to the shower, the recreation area, the visit room or the medical clinic. This was torture. The suicide of 22-year-old Kalief Browder on June 6, barely two years after his release and return home, was the final horror in his tragic and brutal journey into the depths of the adult criminal justice system in New York.
Moral and intellectual clarity about the world we live in are not compatible with self-exculpating glibness. Our adversaries' wrongness does not mean we are in the right. The substance of the terrorists' victory lies exactly in their success in having persuaded Western societies to empower our own authoritarian regimes.
At what point do mistakes aggregate into something evil? At the very least, do they prevent us from claiming the mantle of good? And, of course, it's not just the mistakes that are problematic but also the deliberate policies that, for instance, align Washington with dictators and other murderous actors.
In the figures of completely normal American college students turned terrorists and of torture done at the hands of American soldiers, we are forced to come face-to-face with our own capacity for destruction -- a capacity that is playing itself out in our economy, in our foreign policy and in our very chances for a future on this planet.