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.

3 comments:

Nick J. said...

Thanks for your comment about the manual on my blog. After I posted it, I felt a little bit uneasy, but wasn't sure whether to take it off or not. I have since taken the individual links off of the post. Thanks again,

Nick

Anonymous said...

"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."

Let me rewrite this slightly for this situation: Enforced "democratization" that left milions in starvation (since the 1991 embargo went into effect) as the oil they produced at gunpoint was shuttled off for the benefit of the Americans.

DJ Robbie Rob said...

"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."

No, the matter at hand is whether we, the American people, can accept government not accountable to our constitution and behavior by our government that is immoral in its overly broad application of torture and wrongful imprisonment without hope of liberation or retitution.

I do not think torture is immoral in all circumstances (take the "ticking bomb" scenario, for instance), but we certainly have misapplied it to the unjustifiable harm of human beings AND of our country's reputation and soul. And as a further matter, torture is well-recognized as an unreliable tool for extracting useful information, often extracting any information (right or wrong) to get the torturer to stop. So torture and wrongful imprisonment are both generally immoral and generally unuseful.