What do history's most notorious despots have in common with many of the flag-waving, patriotic politicians of our day? Both groups rise to power through the exploitation of fear, which has become a societal plague. There have been widespread casualties. We need an antidote. Feardom offers its readers a much-needed immunization.
photo credit: stublog
The military prison established at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba is once again in the news, with Congress rejecting Obama’s proposal to close up shop. As usual, observing the arguments on both sides of the aisle has become an exercise in maddening frustration and sheer stupidity. And of course, that means I have an opinion to share.
Guantanamo bay has become the hallmark of the American empire. One cannot think of its presence without being reminded of the federal government’s use of extra-Constitutional loopholes to do unto others that which we would never want done to our own. Its existence is a stain on our already-soiled standard of liberty. But it remains active—despite few protests to the contrary—to allow the government to circumvent and/or deny due process, habeas corpus, and every pillar of liberty to restrain a tyrannical government.
Platitudes aside, there are few principled politicians willing enough to make the moral argument for terminating such operations abroad. Even Obama’s eloquent orations should be put in proper context: until he and others argue for closing Kandahar, Bagram, and all other black-ops sequestration sites, the words ring hollow and the action resembles little more than a public relations stunt. The issue is not Guantanamo itself; so long as we kidnap people on the streets, fly them away to remote locations, and torture (yes, torture) them, America’s stated goal to spread democracy and freedom is little more than a thin veneer of hypocrisy and sleight of hand.
For many (including Utah’s own Rep. Jason Chaffetz), closing Guantanamo is a nightmare scenario of sending boogie men into their own neighborhoods, risking the lives of innocent Americans. This irrational fear seem to be the proposed justification for maintaining prison facilities in remote locations outside our borders, far away from any civilian. Rep. Chaffetz’s reasoning is as follows:
Guantanamo Bay has natural geographic barriers which keep detainees far from American civilians. The remote location also provides a necessary barrier against anyone who may wish to do harm to detainees—or attempt to set them free.
And so the facility is excused since it keeps them from us and us from them. But if our own prison system is good enough for mass murderers, rapists, and sociopaths, isn’t it good enough for innocent, brown-skinned Muslims?
That’s right: out of 775 total detainees to be sent to Guantanamo, only 245 currently remain. 420 have been released without being charged for any crime—sent packing with nary an apology or compensation. And thus far only three (three!) individuals have been charged with a crime:
- David Hicks was found guilty under retrospective legislation introduced in 2006 of providing material support to terrorists in 2001.
- Salim Hamdan took a job as chauffeur driving Osama bin Laden.
- Ali al-Bahlul made a video celebrating the attack on the USS Cole (DDG-67).
And so, the fruits of this imperial institution are the successful prosecution of a guy who donated some money or supplies, a car driver, and a videographer. Pat yourself on the back, America! When looking at the facts it becomes clear that the argument for keeping detainees far from America falls flat on its face; the drunk gang member in the local county jail is far more a threat to me than a guy picked up off the street half a world away by a bounty hunter.
And lastly, Rep. Chaffetz’s letter to Obama further justifies the existence and use of this prison by discussing some of the prisoners’ perks: movies, books, food, and time for prayer. But all of this matters little, since the fundamental issue is being swept under the carpet: we as a country are depriving others (the vast majority of whom are apparently innocent, since only 0.00387% of them have been convicted) of their liberty. Spare me the pleasantries about how well-treated these people are. Until we start affording these people their God-given rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, then our own become cheapened.
Guantanamo and its sister sites are not necessary, helpful, nor moral. America should clean up after its own mess, and that means imprisoning people within our own borders. We should either charge people or release them, and afford them due process for challenging the government’s accusations against them. And we should immediately and fully raze every last vestige of empire, of which Guantanamo stands only as a very recognizable part.