Wednesday, May 20, 2009

The Guantanamo Flap

Guantanamo should be returned to Cuba. The base there serves no purpose and never did serve a purpose -- other than military intimidation, bullying and posturing. But the prison at Guantanamo does serve a purpose. Obama's decision to close it is one of the dumbest things he's ever done. Return the base and make a deal with Cuba to lease the prison.

Back in January, I kept this issue within parenthesis, planning to return to it at some later date: "President Obama has already decided to eliminate the prison. (Whether this is a wise decision is open to debate, but I'll leave that issue for a future post.)" Well, the time has come to discuss it here -- I should have discussed it sooner. I never thought closing the terrorist prison at Guantanamo was a wise decision. And the matter is no longer open to debate. Even the Democrats now see that. Obama is due to give a speech tomorrow and hopefully he'll back down. If he doesn't he's a fool. (This is a Democrat talking, by the way, in case you're new to this blog.)

The problem Obama and the Democrats rightfully seek to address has nothing to do with the facility at Guantanamo, which is simply a prison, neither more nor less. It also happens to be a very convenient prison, because it's located many miles off the shores of the USA, an ideal spot for the incarceration of those who might want to do us harm. The Senators who expressed skepticism regarding the closing of this facility were absolutely right, and the Democrats among them should be commended, because this country should never be run on the basis of empty ideology, but on the basis of sound, critical thinking. In opposing Obama, they are making an all too rare show of responsibility and guts.

If there is a problem with the legal status of the prisoners, that has nothing to do with Guantanamo. Their status is a completely different issue from the issue of where they are to be held. Guantanamo has a purely symbolic significance, of course. Certain highly questionable practices took place there. So end those practices, fine. As far as I'm concerned, water boarding definitely looks like torture. Sleep deprivation doesn't. (Been there done that -- insomnia can be pretty awful, but it's something millions of people endure and if innocent people can endure it, terrorists can endure it.) But the larger point is that these practices have been examined and meaningful decisions are being made regarding them. Fine.

As far as the question of whether or not they are to be treated as prisoners of war, as I see it they are most certainly not prisoners of war. Nor are they common criminals. We need to face the fact that their status is unique and we need to treat them in a unique manner. War in the 21st Century is going to be very different from the way it was in the 20th, just as war in the 20th Century was very different from the 19th. The role of terrorism is going to be increasingly important, which means that protecting our borders is going to be increasingly important -- along with many other things, such as the growing importance of intelligence -- both kinds of intelligence, the spying kind but also the intelligent kind, aka simply being smarter, better informed, and also, when necessary, even more deceptive than your enemy.

Planes, ships, missiles, high tech weaponry, etc. are going to be increasingly unimportant. The ability to outsmart your opponent is going to be increasingly important. Torture is reprehensible for many reasons, and it is also ineffective. So why bother with it? If you have someone in custody who might have important information don't bother torturing him, first because it's wrong, but also because it won't do you any good. Lie to him! Manipulate him. Fool him. Hire a magician to make him think he's in the presence of Allah almighty. Be smart, not dumb.

Closing Guantanamo purely because it's taken on some sort of symbolic significance that makes it politically incorrect, is not smart. Transferring possibly dangerous individuals to the US mainland because it makes you feel better about yourself is not smart. I hate to say it but imo the ACLU has outlived its usefulness. Listening to anyone from this organization is a waste of time, i.e., also not smart. The facility at Guantanamo has never been the problem. Our failure to get beyond the political correctness thing, our failure to think more critically, deeply, logically and dispassionately about the world we now live in -- that's the problem. I like my fellow Democrats, I'm proud to be one of them. I admire my president. However: can we drop all the kid stuff and finally: GROW UP??????????


  1. Running the country is not nearly as easy as the previous 43 presidents made it look, eh Barry?

    And as was obvious to the less-smitten amongst us, the pollyana gobbledygook he laid on the left to get himself elected was never going to work in reality- a fact that the calculating opportunist Obama likely knew full-well back when he was promising them the moon and the stars.

    He'll use you, if you let him... that's how narcissists are.

  2. Doc G

    Yes, let’s talk Gitmo in a midnight haze of half literacy. It will be an interesting waste of time. Neither of us has, like the president you admire, excelled in sucking up to an elite education and therefore we have never been candidates to pledge our allegiance to the Upper Class. We have not been allowed to receive an obligatory and binding pittance from major financial institutions in our own country and the fundamentalist government of a another. Let’s talk Gitmo, even though no one gives a hoot what we think.

    Yes, thank you, Guantanamo belongs to Cuba. Lease our gulag from Cuba? Cute idea. The Cuban legal system has not shown much recognition for habeas corpus. They just might let us pay rent on our little nightmare created by our recent sociopathic oligarchy.

    I agree sleep depravation may not be cruel and inhumane. Jefferson Davis had to endure ten years of a continually illuminated cell. Thank all of the gods, the South has given up the idea of overt ownership of other homo saps. Wage slavery is sufficient to keep the master in a comfortable situation.

    But, Doc, it would be wonderful if you could honestly lay out the evolution of your own thought. I suspect at one time you thought torture was an appropriate and meaningful activity.

    But what do mean as common criminals? The souls buried at Gitmo have been swept off the streets of Kabul or Lahore and not charged with any crime? Our Supreme Court has ruled that they either have to be charged and sent to civil proceedings or released. But W Bush and B Obama disregard our highest court.

    LIke the people who wanted to fry the Rosenbergs, you want to discredit moral outrage that is represented by the ACLU. How about the Center for Constitutional Democracy? They also seriously object that most of the people in Gitmo have received no charge of wrong doing and have no access to lawyers and face military tribunal that reproduce the Inquisition since the kangaroo court has no transparency and no appeal.

    What about the black sites in Afghanistan and other countries that hold people suspected of eventually, some time in the future of doing doing bad things to the totally ethical United States of America? Yes, hold them, just in case. In fact, let’s do the same in the US. Let us lock up every person who has not earned a six digit income in 2009. They are all potential terrorists in the the new wars of the 21st century.

    As for single payer health insurance, the president you admire, is doing his best to provide the most profit to the rich who have given him his Pomp and Circumstance.

  3. Reaganite Republican Resistance, eh? Resistance to what, may I ask? Higher taxes for the wealthy? Food assistence and health benefits for children? Regulation of our out of control financial industry? The banning of assault weapons? I'm sure you'll think of something, but I have a feeling it won't sound particularly compassionate, caring -- or particularly Christian either, come to think of it.

    You're right though, about running the country. It isn't all that easy, and Obama did make some campaign promises he's starting to choke on, no question. I'd rather have Obama "using me" than any Republican I can think of, underground, overground, resisting, resistant or recalcitrant. :-)

  4. OK, Mr. Lee, let's talk Gitmo. Fine. We do have a lot in common, as you say, so I'm wondering why we disagree so often.

    I agree that Gitmo is a little nightmare, sure. And we can only rent the place if the Cubans let us. Otherwise, forget it, we're out on our ears, regardless. But they'll probably let us stay if we pay them enough. And revoke the planned increase in the cigar tax. I won't argue with "sociopathic oligarchy" either, that sums up the Bush/Cheney regime well enough.

    As far as the evolution of my thoughts on torture are concerned, I have to admit, they are NOT politically correct. If the FBI knew with something like 80% certainty that some prisoner had knowledge of an impending nuclear attack, AND if some form of torture was the only way to get that information out of him, AND we were reasonably sure it would be effective, then I'd say the FBI had a responsibility to torture the guy. I'm sure the ACLU would disagree. But after the bomb went off maybe at least some of them might change their minds, as the flesh slowly peeled off of millions of innocent bodies. (Talking about torture.)

    The Bush administration was heavily criticized for not being pro-active enough to prevent 9/11, so naturally they decided to from then on be as pro-active as Hell. IMO they overdid it. But their zeal is understandable. And I'm pleased to see that Obama recognizes this. Where water-boarding fits into this mix is not clear, but obviously water-boarding someone 20 or 50 or 80 or 180 times is both excessive and pointless and can certainly be seen as torture. It should not have been done and it should be banned.

    The prisoner issue is extremely difficult for sure, but a little common sense can help. First of all, prisoners of war are never charged with any crime and certainly never tried in a court of law. They are detained until the war is over. And yes, some of the individuals swept up in the heat of battle might not even be combatants, but just innocent folk who happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. This is one of many reasons why we treasure the phrase: War is Hell.

    Every effort should be made to weed out such innocents and as I understand it, such efforts have been made and are being made. As for the rest, they have a unique and very problematic status, because a terrorist "war" can last for a great many years and it's never very clear whether such a war is ever over. Additionally, terrorists differ from ordinary combatants in being far more dedicated and usually far more ruthless warriors. I commend Obama for having the guts to recognize this and realize that the most hardened dedicated jihadists cannot simply be set free to roam the streets of the good old US of A, just because they've served so many years in Gitmo, or anywhere else.

    This is a very difficult issue, from many points of view, humanitarian, legal, ethical, morale, etc. Frankly I have no idea how to solve it and maybe it can never be solved in a manner that would be consistent with our deepest values and principles. However, the point I was making had nothing to do with the status of such prisoners, but only the facility where they are detained. As I see it, the location of the prison is not or shouldn't be the real issue here, but how the prisoners are treated and under what legal auspices they should be evaluated and possibly tried.

    IMO ALL prisoners deserve to be treated humanely and with respect, no matter how despicable they might be as human beings and regardless of what they've done or might do if set free. However, there's no reason why they can't be treated as humanely in Gitmo as anywhere else.

    As far as the ACLU is concerned, my problem with them is not their representation of morale outrage or their efforts to enforce constitutional protections, but their dogmatic, narrow minded political correctness, which too often gets them bogged down in pointless and silly issues (such as the status of Gitmo) and weakens their credibility when involved in truly important issues (such as torture).


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