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Gitmo II

Interesting and provocative issues raised by yesterday’s post demand a sequel. I’m not interested in repeating myself, but there’s much more in this issue to explore, and many of the comments to yesterday’s essay raise excellent questions.

I’ll skip past the anonymous guy who tells me I’ve “lost my marbles” and start with POUNDS, who asks the following questions:

1) To guarantee that a 9/11 attack would never happen to us again, would you abolish Habeus Corpus? (just yes or no… please don’t tell me about Lincoln.).

I’ll skip Lincoln, as the situation here is not analogous to the Civil War, in which Habeas Corpus was denied to American citizens. A simple “yes” or a “no,” however, requires context. The question assumes that unlawful enemy combatants have the right to Habeas Corpus, which, thanks to Tony Kennedy’s weaselry, is now the position of the United States Supreme Court, in contradiction to Congress’ determination otherwise in 2006.

I don’t think these unlawful combatants, who are neither American citizens nor uniformed soldiers representing an enemy state, have the right to Habeus Corpus, no. So, yes, I would suspend that right in this case, particularly if it would save American lives. Yet the use of the word “abolish” suggests scope and permanence – i.e. would I eliminate forever Habeus Corpus for American citizens and everyone else if it would guarantee no other 9/11-style attacks in perpetuity? No, I would not.

POUNDS’ second question:

2) To guarantee that a 9/11 attack would never happen to us again, would you abolish the first amendment?

Again, applying similar considerations with regard to scope and permanence, absolutely not.

Derek/Polchinello then worries that Guantanamo has become something of a grey area legally, and he’s probably right, although I don’t think this happened as a result of negligence. The Bush Administration sought legal clarification of the status of prisoners on several occasions, and they met with mixed results. The most recent Supreme Court decision ignores precedent in favor of “human rights,” which, while probably well-intentioned, does a disservice to the nation as a whole. In my estimation, Guantanamo is the worst possible option except for all the others. Those who seek to dismantle it offer no viable alternative in its place.

POUNDS later cites this website for review, and I recommend it to you while having only perused a few of these testimonials myself. What I found in my brief perusal were complaints about disruption techniques – waking prisoners up at all hours of the day or night – and stories of cells that were either too hot or too cold. Other prisoners complained of being shackled in ways that didn’t allow them to stand up straight or sleep comfortably. Some prisoners complained of being humiliated by being forced to submit to the authority of a woman, having their beards shaved, or, as one prisoner maintained, being “wrapped in the flag of Israel.” Some tell wild tales of prostitutes being brought in on a regular basis to taunt them. Surprisingly, I found no mention of waterboarding, which Bush/Cheney critics often suggest is rampant at Guantanamo, nor did I find any suggestion of things that often come to mind when people use the word “torture,” i.e. mutilation of body parts and the like.

These testimonials concern me less than they do POUNDS.

To begin with, most, but not all, of these stories come directly from the prisoners themselves, not from firsthand observations. The only leverage these prisoners have left to them is the ability to provoke international outrage at their treatment at the hands of the Americans, and they’ve often been successful without being truthful. Anyone else remember the Newsweek article about the Koran at Gitmo that was supposedly flushed down the toilet? The incident provoked riots across the globe, despite the fact that it didn’t happen. If Gitmo were engaged in systemic torture and mistreatment of its prisoners, documented instances of such would provoke similar international condemnation. As it stands, we’re usually forced to take the prisoner’s word for it. I find it telling that even these prisoners most outrageous stories don’t include hands being cut off or eyes being sliced out, which is how many of the detainee’s home countries would deal with these guys. It’s not because they don’t want people to believe that; it’s that they know nobody will.

POUNDS questions the veracity of the Cocktail story because it’s essentially a fourth-hand account. Point taken. Can we, then, apply at least as high a level of skepticism to the word of a suspected terrorist? POUNDS refuses to consider the guilt or innocence of these people, yet I confess that I consider their word to be exponentially less trustworthy than the word of an American soldier.

POUNDS sums up his position thusly:


Nothing is more un-American (in my opinion) than the thought of the United States government locking people away without even affording them trials.So, if forced to make a decision, without the the benefit of all the information that has been withheld by the government, I would say:

PUT THEM ON TRIAL RIGHT NOW…. OR LET THEM GO!!!!(As for the place of location pending their immediate trial: I would hold them in the nearest available local jail…. just as other defendants are held.)

That would be an unmitigated disaster. These people were not arrested and charged with a crime; they were captured on the field of battle. None of them were read their Miranda rights. Given the standards of domestic criminal courts, that’s grounds for release right there. And even Obama has admitted that these are some pretty bad dudes, and their release would endanger American lives.

Closing Guantanamo would be a huge step toward returning terrorism to the realm of domestic law enforcement, which is where it was throughout the Clinton Administration. The folly of that approach became apparent on 9/11. No, I don’t want to dismantle the Bill of Rights. Instead, I want the nation to recognize that arresting crooks is very different from fighting a war. By closing Guantanamo, we will ignore that reality and once again bury our heads in the sand.

Other Perspectives

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