Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Earlier last week, Amnesty International (AI) publicized its annual report, which accused the United States of being among the world's worst human rights offenders and, in a strikingly audacious move, labeled Guantánamo "the gulag of our times"—an outrageous assertion, as I will explain below. In the opinion pages of last Friday's New York Times, columnist Thomas Friedman declared that our "war-on-terrorism P.O.W. camp" in Cuba "has become worse than an embarrassment." ("Just Shut It Down," 27 May 2005, A23) Strong words—not as bold, certainly, as equating the camp to the Soviet peasant prisons that brutally enforced collectivism and left millions in starvation, as the goods they harvested at gunpoint were shuttled off for the benefit of the Kremlin.

Guantánamo is, by contrast, a complex of detention facilities in which several hundreds of suspected terrorists have been held: incommunicado and without charge, trial by jury or legal counsel, in conditions that the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), Human Rights Watch and AI find appalling. Moreover, it is well-known that the Administration ducked the prerogatives of international humanitarian law (notably the 3rd Geneva Conventions) and, many argue, the U.S. Constitution, in its prosecution of captured suspects to whom it refuses to apply prisoner of war (POW) status. The prisoners at Guantánamo, in effect, are 'enemy combatants' with no legal rights. But the prosecution of suspected terrorists is not quite the issue here.

The matter at hand is whether we, the American people, can accept the lasting black eye landed on our image by what is being done in our name on a leased patch of land in Cuba. Friedman, not to be outdone by AI's scathing assessment, issues a plea to the President. "I am convinced that more Americans are dying and will die if we keep the Gitmo prison open than if we shut it down," he writes, which logically has two things wrong with it. Americans are getting killed, in Iraq, because they're being blown up and shot down by insurgents. I honestly don't believe Guantánamo plays a factor in our occupation.

So why should we shut down Gitmo? According to Friedman, the "P.O.W." camp must be immediately discontinued because, to paraphrase, it is dealing serious harm to our global image and is counterproductive to winning the war on terror, because it is producing the effect of "inflaming sentiments against the U.S. all over the world and providing recruitment energy ... for those who would do us ill." Gitmo is thus a propaganda victory for al Qaeda and its affiliates. Friedman's solution, in which we see the second problem with his argument, is to "put them on trial, convict as many possible (which will not be easy because of bungled interrogations) and then simply let the rest go home or to a third country." The last of these is known as 'extraordinary rendition,' where the suspects – or enemy combatants, depending on who's talking — are flown to their country of residence. The Administration relies on a verbal assurance that the respective regimes will not torture the prisoners; no confirmation seems necessary, perhaps because such an attempt would be seen as violating a trust between the United States and whatever country is the prisoner's former home. Friedman's solution, in part, seems to encourage this CIA practice.

Gitmo ought not be shut down. It should be made more transparent, and the officials accountable for any wrongdoing. At the very least, charges against the prisoners ought be given. This is the lowest common standard; in this war on terrorism, it's the best for which we can hope — not only for us Americans, but for the entire world and how we appear to them. How else will the vital cooperation to defeat al Qaeda be achieved if most people abroad hold us in their minds as barbarians? Not by formenting terrorism, surely.

Saturday, May 28, 2005


Saturday, May 21, 2005

Have returned from seeing Star Wars: Episode III - Revenge of the Sith at the Uptown in Washington. Always great to see films at that theatre, albeit the sometimes excessively long line (expected for such a place). The last Star Wars, the one that adjoins the two trilogies, was very satisfying in that all the questions you may still have are answered. The circle is closed, and the final pieces are locked into place. The low points go to the poor delivery of sometimes flat, dull dialogue that detracts from the overall spectacle, saturated with CG to the point at which the action is amassed into a dizzing blur. The magic of the Jedi loses its novelty in the process, as well, which is a shame.

Moreover, Revenge is an allegorical morality play, but one that is only half-formed. The Jedi, portrayed in my interpretation as moral absolutists, are defending their 'Old Order' from the Sith, who are the relativists, conceiving the whole business of ethics as tied to one's personal perspective. This point is amplified throughout, until the stirring climax, after which the circle is drawn to its conclusion. I could go into more detail here, but the film premiered just about two days ago (counting the midnight showing), so I'll not ruin anything for those left to see it, who number in the several millions

It's the last Star Wars; but, as A.O. Scott of the New York Times pointed out, it's the middle of the two trilogies. In other words, you are bound to see a lot of (successfully) patched ends and the like. More to the point, Scott's well-crafted review reads that the film "is about how a republic dismantles its own democratic principles, about how politics becomes militarized, about how a Manichaean ideology undermines the rational exercise of power." You know, that sort of artsy conjecturing from a premiere elite paper like The Times. Echoing the full-circle idea, Scott writes: "Democracies swell into empires, empires are toppled by revolutions, fathers abandon their sons and sons find their fathers." That's about all there is to it. And other such nondescript generalities. Well ... just see it. By the way, I didn't give away shit.

Wednesday, May 18, 2005

The Nationals defeated the Milwaukee Brewers 1-0 tonight, in an electrifying ninth inning before which the game was stuck at zero to zero. I was glad I was there to see it. It was great.

Sunday, May 15, 2005

Was at HFStival 2005 in Baltimore yesterday. M&T Bank Stadium. Had a great time, lost a free hat in an excessively chaotic mosh pit. Also enjoyed the gouging, as in $4 for a bottle of water. Police pretty much everywhere, a chopper circling overhead during the scorching afternoon. A cool rain was very much welcomed, and later a thunderstorm nearly canceled the event entirely. Foo Fighters was incredible, as was Coldplay and ... They Might Be Giants (you guessed it). By the way, I'm not moshing for awhile. It was too much. Fuckin' crowd-surfer jackasses. All in all, a lot of fun. I'm out of money.

Thursday, May 12, 2005

There it is. (To your right) It's not as fast as before, or as legible, but it's OK. Look at it go.
Everything is pretty much back to normal, I think. I got some outside help. (You know who you are.) Oh, yeah, have to put that counter back on. You know, the real-time cost of the Iraq war? Yeah, that little counter. It's good to be back.

Monday, May 02, 2005

The new episodes of Family Guy have finally returned to network TV. After watching the first of the new season last night, it looks to me that it's as great as ever. Seriously, Mr. MacFarlane and his crew still got it. Thank you, FOX. And, if you would also end my beloved Simpsons and lay it to rest, another thanks would be coming your way.