Guantanamo Bay continues to be a blight on our national conscience. Its proponents make all sorts of arguments to defend what is ultimately indefensible. Chief among them: We have to keep “the worst of the worst” at Guantanamo Bay in the name of national security. Of course, most of Gitmos detainees haven’t been charged, nor have they been tried.
Without trials, let alone public ones, it’s sort of difficult to know whether we are holding the worst of the worst or with we’re holding innocents.
The counter to that point is: We know they are the worst of the worst because they were detained and are held as “enemy combatants” under the President’s authority.
This logic reminds me of the reasoning by religious zealots. They know a given thing is true because its in the bible. They believe in the bible, so therefore everything in it is true.
Even if the logic wasn’t flawed, the assumption that only the guilty are held at Guantanamo Bay simply isn’t true.
Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, who was Chief of Staff for Secretary of State Colin Powell, has charged in a sworn affidavit that top officials of the Bush administration — including Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Vice President Dick Cheney, and President Bush himself — knowingly left innocent detainees to languish in prison to avoid political fallout. “Their view was that innocent people languishing in Guantánamo for years was justified by the broader war on terror and the capture of the small number of terrorists who were responsible for the September 11 attacks, or other acts of terrorism,” Colonel Wilkerson stated.
Finally, let’s consider some numbers. The Obama administration has cleared more than half of Guantanamo detainees for transfer. This, when combined with Colonel Wilkinson’s assertion that the Bush administration knew it was holding innocent people at Guantanamo Bay is very disturbing.
Moreover, of the remaining people who should be detained, there is no need for the military tribunal. Our judicial system has convicted terrorists, without resorting to evidence tainted by torture. When the Department of Justice attempted to prosecute KSM in New York, it was met with the same resistance from congress that occurred previously. As reported in The Reid Report last April.
In addition to McCain (the Republican) and Schumer (the Democrat), other opponents of trying KSM in New York included Michael Bloomberg (who flip-flopped on his way to opposition), Democratic Senator Kirstin Gillibrand and her colleague, Democratic House member from New York Nydia Velasquez, Democratic New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and a majority in Congress, which summarily blocked every attempt by Holder to either establish civilian tribunals for the suspects, or to move even a single detainee out of Guantanamo — even to an empty prison complex in Illinois.
Those who argue that alleged terrorist don’t deserve the legal rights we have under our constitution, misunderstand the concept of rights. We must not accept the notion that rights only apply to those who deserve them because that converts rights to privileges. That sort of culture put all of our rights at peril. It also assumes that there is someone who can and should be the arbitrator of determining who deserves rights.
Upholding the constitution has not compromised our ability to convict people without untainted evidence, a fair and open judicial process; and a right to a defense.
Our prisons have kept people convicted of terrorism under lock and key, thus dispensing with the claim that prosecuting Guantanamo detainees constitute a threat to our national security.
Moreover, if conservative claims that we need to tighten our budgetary belt, closing Guantanamo Bay would contribute to that objective.
Nothing about Guantanamo Bay is consistent with “protecting who we are.” To the contrary, ever since Guantanamo Bay, torture and rendition became accepted policies, our civil rights have been under constant attack during the past decade, slowly and incrementally at first.
Challenges to economic disparity have been met with brutality on those who are merely protesting a system that makes it possible for Mitt Romney to pay around 15% in income taxes, while the child laborers Newt Gingrich fantasizes about would pay a higher tax rate on their miniscule earnings.
Today it’s at lightning speed. Scott Walker is the epitome of the attack on labor and collective bargaining. Snyder is establishing an autocracy in Michigan in which even if you can get past the voter suppression laws, you’re vote can be discounted by an unelected bureaucrat who is accountable to the Governor and the Governor alone.
Reproductive rights have been attacked to the point that zygotes are persons, but the women who carry them are considered dispensable. In fact, we are at the point, that a woman who seeks an abortion to save her own life will be prosecuted.
The relationship between Guantanamo Bay and the attack on our civil rights has more to do with establishing a culture in which rights become privileges. I’m not saying that Guantanamo Bay produced the attack on our civil liberties. I am saying that Guantanamo Bay established a culture in which attacks on our civil rights in the name of national security, and nationalism becomes increasingly acceptable.
So what can we do about it? Well, we can start by signing a petition at We The People on the White House’s website, calling on the president to close Guantanamo Bay. This would re-open the debate on Guantanamo Bay.
One cannot emphasize enough that this is one of those things that the President cannot do unilaterally. We saw what happened the last time he made the effort to close Guantanamo Bay. Republicans and many Democrats passed a bill prohibiting the money needed to make it happen. Aside from precluding our ability to close Guantanamo Bay, this action really had international implications. As reported by Carol Rosenberg last April, even releasing people known to be innocent was impossible because since the U.S. wouldn’t allow a single one to live here, other countries joined in the NIMBY mentality.
Two years after the newly minted Obama administration moved to undo what had become one of the most controversial legacies of the George W. Bush presidency by ordering the closure of the prison camps at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, a trove of State Department documents made public by the website WikiLeaks is providing new information about why that effort failed.
Key among the factors, the cables suggest: Congress’ refusal to allow any of the captives to be brought to the United States.
In cable after cable sent to the State Department in Washington, American diplomats make it clear that the unwillingness of the United States to resettle a single detainee in this country — even from among 17 ethnic Muslim Uighurs considered enemies of China’s communist government — made other countries reluctant to take in detainees.
If there are enough signatures calling for closing Guantanamo Bay comes pressure to reopen the discussion and with that the secondary issues that have arisen from congressional obstructionism on all thing Gitmo. Considering what Guantanamo Bay has done to attitudes about our civil rights, signing this petition is an opportunity we can’t afford to pass up.
Image from Amnestyusa.org.