05/21/2009 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Fear and Loathing of Change

I was woken by a phone call on the morning of September 11th, 2001. It was an unbearable day. I cried my eyes out while I watched the nightmare unfold on television. I felt disconnected walking outside, knowing the horror and wondering how my pop was doing on his moose hunt. He wouldn't know of the attacks for two weeks. It didn't matter. Just because he was in the wilds of Alaska, didn't make the horror less real.

Sitting with Christy Harvey of the Center for American Politics, drinking wine and reading torture memos Friday night, I had the same thought. Where was I? What was I doing when a man was water boarded six times a day for a month-183 times in 30 days; drowned and resuscitated? Scraping ice off my car windows? Making dinner? Laughing? It doesn't matter. Just because I was unaware of the torture didn't make the horror less real.

I'm not a lawyer. I can't see a law school from my house. But I know the dark, twisted, sick, fetish language in the torture memos is not what America stands for.

But apparently it's what America will sit for.

The treatment of "terrorists" is touchy. I wondered if Timothy McVeigh had been water boarded or sleep deprived for 11 days. Had he been placed in a kennel with stinging bugs? He was a terrorist who hurt America. Were there more of him? Oh, that's right, he was American, so he was protected. Was it just a wacked reaction to Waco? McVeigh once told a reporter, "it's 168 to 1", making a macabre reference to his personal score card.

Timothy McVeigh 168 victims
The US Government 001 victims

A torture memo gave kudos to interrogators for using "potable saline" instead of fresh water for their sessions; the saline reduced the odds of subsequent pneumonia. It reminded me of the resuscitation of death row inmates after they've attempted suicide, or the sanitary alcohol swabbed on Timothy McVeigh's arm before his lethal injection.

As Americans, we put McVeigh on trial, proved his guilt, and put him to death; we didn't kill and resurrect him 183 times in a month.

The Rule of Law isn't just for the accused, it defines who we are.

Timothy McVeigh was an example of our response to the crime of terror.

I've read Justice Robert H. Jackson's opening and closing statements of the Nuremberg Trials. His representation of the United States and the World against the Nazis was unwavering. "Civilization can afford no compromise with the social forces which would gain renewed strength if we deal ambiguously or indecisively with the men in whom those forces now precariously survive."

The excuse of "following orders" was inexcusable. Ignorance of the law is never an excuse for breaking it. Tell the state patrol officer, the next time you're pulled over for speeding, that you didn't know the speed limit. See how far that gets you.

My pop gave a sermon when I was twelve. He said the difference between grace and mercy was simple; grace is when you get something good you don't deserve; mercy is when you weren't given something bad that you did deserve. I'm not suggesting that we have "Grace and Mercy Camps" for terrorists. It's not about THEM, it's about who WE are; what we will do and what we won't.

Who we are is defined by how we treat those under our charge.

Torture was done in our name. Authorized by Americans. Executed by contractors. All under the protection of the American flag. The same flag I pledge allegiance to.

The flag isn't a lapel pin made in China. The flag is not something you frost on the top of a birthday cake. The pathetic manipulation of a piece of cloth has distracted, quite intentionally, what it is truly symbolic of: The Constitution.

Thomas Paine said, "A long habit of not thinking a thing wrong, gives it a superficial appearance of being right." Torture hasn't saved Americans, it has killed us. We have spent millions of dollars chasing false confessions. We have given up part of our soul in compromising our Constitution.

Mr. President, I want my flag back. Prosecute war criminals.