Tuesday, February 23, 2016

Gitmo: The Dark Center of the American Soul

Kelly Ayotte, New Hampshire's Tea Party Republican senator from New Hampshire was on NPR this morning trying to win re election by proclaiming her determination to keep the prison at Guantanamo open.

This reminded me of the fact that I often forget--we are still imprisoning people in Gitmo, without trial, holding them for decades without prospect of release.

Throwing people into jail without due process of law, without filing charges to state clearly to the prisoner or the public what the person is accused of, ignoring haebeus corpus, is, of course, something expressly forbidden by the Constitution, and more importantly by any sort of civilized sensibility. 

You capture someone, throw him into jail and simply throw away the key, no more questions asked.  It's beyond medieval, it's savagery.

What we, as Americans are saying is, well that Constitution which protects our citizens does not apply to human beings who are not citizens, because we do not consider these rights of man, but simply privileges of citizenship. 

Of course, the argument has been made these are "prisoners of war," captured by our soldiers, not our police, on another continent, a world away and we can do things in war without due process. We had prison camps for captured soldiers during World War II and we did not feel we had to charge them with any crime. 

The problem is, this "war on terror" is not like WWII or Korea or Vietnam. There you had uniformed soldiers and battle lines. There you had wars with foreseeable ends. The fact is the ISIS inspired terrorist whether he is caught on a battlefield, scooped up in an Afghan village or captured shooting civilians in San Bernadino or Paris is much more like a common murderer, motivated differently perhaps, but behaving alone or in a gang and firing against people not wielding weapons against him, so he is engaging in murder or attempted murder. 

The "war on terror" is unending and in that sense is not a war at all, but an ongoing police action. It's something new in our history. 

What do we do with men we've captured in the Middle East and with those who we will capture in the future?

As Lincoln once said, the solutions for gentler times will not suffice for the turbulent present; as we face new problems, so we must think anew.

But we have not been thinking. 

We accept that we can send in the drones to kill "terrorists" in Pakistan and Afghanistan and elsewhere because we are assured by our leaders they have human sources who have identified these "targets."  Even without a trial or a charge or any sort of arguments for innocence, we accept killing Al Qaeda agents because of the secretive way in which they act and because we cannot think of any other effective way of dealing with stealthy assassins living overseas.

But in the case of men we have captured on the Arabian peninsula, we have options.  Some of the options we have exercised include "water boarding" which at least  one former CIA director has claimed is not torture but simply "enhanced interrogation." Somehow, we have accepted the idea when we have people completely under our control we can strip search them, abuse them physically and that's okay. We can do this because they are suspected of being soulless animals who kill innocent human beings. The enormity of the accusation justifies the cruelty of the captivity, even before we have any real certainty they are guilty of what we say they are guilty of.

And now we have Senators like Kelly Ayotte arguing the men we have in Gitmo, whoever they are, are so terrifying we cannot take the chance of bringing them to our shores, because, like King Kong, they may escape!

We have psychotic, frothing at the mouth, serial killers in American prisons, but, oh, the prospect of bringing some Al Qaeda operative who has been held for 9 years at Gitmo to the USA makes us go all weak kneed. 

Of course, no matter what these guys were like before that 9 years, you know they must hate us now. But there's nothing we can do about that.

And, bye-the-bye, what are we doing holding a piece of Cuba as our own private preserve? What would Americans say if Cuba or Mexico held a piece of Florida and housed military on it, not to mention a den of iniquity, a black hole of foul deeds?

The fact is, this black hole we've created is a festering abscess on the soul of America, the worst sort of despotism, as bad as anything we've done since Abu Gharib in Iraq. George W. Bush, reacting to the revelations of Abu Gharib famously said, "This is not who we are."  

Well, I've got news for you, George: 

This is who we is.

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