Monday, February 20, 2006
Guantanamo - why it still matters
Multiple recent news stories have popped up about the prison camp, and a decent summary of these stories is here, at slate.com, authored by Dahlia Lithwick..
Lots of folks are willing to believe the Bush administration's talking points. The prisoners started arriving during the war in Afghanistan, so they were being called battlefield captures, of the worst of the worst, unlawful combatants who could not claim the rights of honorable enemy soldiers. "They're lucky we didn't just kill them" some folks said. "You can summarily execute a spy or terrorist in a war!"
The facts are a bit different. First off, keep one thing in mind: the Bush administration says that these were not honorable soldiers, right? They didn't put on uniforms that identified them as bad guys and openly bear arms against the enemy, right?
Well, if they weren't in uniform, and weren't bearing weapons openly, how did we know they were combatants at all? Sure, we have intelligence operatives on the ground, figuring out who is dangerous and who isn't, but, let's be kind, and admit that even the best intelligence operatives, can make mistakes. Let's ignore the intelligence failures that have happened since.
We knew that some were accidental captures a long time ago; the government's released scores of captives. Do you think the government knowingly released some of the "worst of the worst"? In fact, we have darn good reason to believe (if you follow the links in the Slate article above) that there are a lot more who were mistakenly captured.
The US has been holding innocent people in a prison for years, now, and has fought against so much as giving them a chance to try to convince a judge that a mistake was made.
If any other nation did this, would we trust them? If they wouldn't even give the captives a hearing in their own courtrooms? Please note, I did not say a trial. I said a hearing. A chance for someone to look at the evidence and say yes, there's cause to hold this person, or no, there isn't.
We do have a military group that is holding such hearings, but they aren't independent. They have a job, and their job is to protect people from risks. Their job is not to guard the freedoms of the detainees. In the absence of proof, their "safe failure" is to continue holding a detainee. It's different with courts, and that's why the courts should hold the hearings.
This country was founded on the principle that individual human rights matter. It's a national disgrace that we are not willing to give a fair hearing to fix the inevitable mistakes that are made.
Now, that's the first part of the problem: that we're holding these people in a prison camp at all. The next part of the problem is what we're doing to them there.
The Bush administration insists it's treating people humanely there. People like Senator Inhofe (more outraged by the outrage over Abu Ghraib, don't forget!) seem to think that reading the prison menu proves this - after all, if the food has good sounding names, no one can be putting the detainees in stress positions until they shit themselves. (Possible registration required)
And how can I claim that those brave soldiers at Guantanamo are doing such terrible things? Well... I have to trust the brave FBI agents who report such things, brave soldiers like Captain Ian Fishback who speak out against abuse, and the Faye report, written by our brave soldiers. The Faye report explains that some of the reasons for the abuses at Abu Ghraib occurred because methods that were allowed at Guantanamo "migrated" over to Iraq.
But you know what? Screw that. It's not the members of our military who make these decisions. It's the Commander-in-Chief who declared that the Geneva Conventions didn't apply to the detainees at Guantanamo. It's his legal advisers who wrote memos declaring such abuses could be legal, and it's under his authority, and under his orders, that these soldiers operate.
People are being tortured in Guantanamo. Some of them are innocent. But even if every single one of them was an evil terrorist with a heart as black as the night, I'd oppose torture. Torture doesn't work any better than other interrogation techniques. Eventually, it doesn't even work at all... it will end up getting whatever the torturer wants to hear, and that might not be the truth.
That's secondary to the bigger issue. Torture is evil.
It's tempting, I admit, to think about torture when there's a great danger to worry about. People can feel driven to torture when they are afraid that anything less will put themselves, or others, in danger.
Well, there's a word for people who do evil things because they're afraid. That word is "coward".
And America must not become a nation of cowards. America is mighty enough to win this war without having to resort to evil means.
Guantanamo still matters. It's time we should the courage to shut it down.
PS. This is not a "hotbrev".