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What does "close Guantánamo" mean?


Guantánamo is a war crime. It's illegal by both U.S. and international law. And now, in the article <a href="" source="New York Times" author="">Amid Hunger Strike, Obama Renews Push to Close Cuba Prison</a>, we hear that President Obama wants to try closing it again. Does he mean it this time? But what does he mean by close it? And why now? Should we believe his high-minded though glib reasons? Or is cynicism once again more justified than hope? <h>Why is he trying again? Why now?</h> As even the article states, <bq>Mr. Obama made his remarks following the arrival at the prison of more than three dozen Navy nurses, corpsmen and specialists to help deal with a mass hunger strike by inmates</bq> Sadly, it just wasn't possible to close Guantánamo in the first five years, no political will or support, mumble, mumble, dissemble, dissemble... The timing suggests that Obama is more worried that Guantánamo will be a black mark on his legacy than that he really cares that America is running a concentration camp. Obama is making noises again not because of concerns for the rights of a handful of invisible Yemenis<fn> but because of the stain on his reputation that their grisly treatment and possible deaths would entail. <bq>'I don’t want these individuals to die,' Mr. Obama said.</bq> No, Mr. President, everyone dies. What you mean is that you don't want them to die in such a public way, with collateral damage---if you'll allow the misuse of the term---to your career and your <iq>legacy</iq>. You were much happier when they were suffering and languishing in silence. Instead of instinctively cheering when Obama says that <iq>The idea that we would still maintain forever a group of individuals who have not been tried [...] that is contrary to who we are, contrary to our interests, and it needs to stop,</iq> remember instead that he said pretty much the same thing during his campaign five years ago. And remember that any number of people trot out such pablum whenever they feel the urge to stroke the collective ego of America. Why can the president muster the support and political will for an illegal attack on Libya---which was made possible within days---but closing a highly illegal prisoner camp where people who haven't been charged and will never see a trial "reside" takes years? Why is it so much easier to get involved in wars---witness the renewed push for Syrian action or the continued pressure for escalation in Iran---than it is to be moral? In in a civilized and even slightly ethical society, there should be absolutely <i>no</i> downside to closing a prison camp as illegal and abhorrent as Guantánamo. And yet, here we sit, in a country that can't muster the <i>political will</i> to do it. Is there any other conclusion to which can come than that, as a nation, we are utter, egotistical bastards? <h>It's not just Obama, either</h> And, before the absolutely rabid Obama-haters smirk their gruesome smirks and twist their hate-besotted grimaces into triumphant sneers, the indictment above is not specifically of Obama but rather of any political creature who's managed to gnaw his way through the offal to the top of the political heap in Washington. It applied just as well to Bush when he was president. Obama is not especially evil in a way that, should we manage to be rid of him, America would revert to its shining moral leadership and the day would dawn on a world of rainbows and butterflies. No, Obama is simply the immanence of America's corrupted soul. Bush was the same, a hand-puppet whose movements were predestined by the oblivious mean-spiritedness, coarse ignorance and utter self-interest of the society that elected him. Where Bush may have implied---or even outright said---that Guantánamo's inmates should never see the light of day, Obama superficially pretends to care about their plight. Where Americans largely unaffected by these policies see diametric opposites---free markets! vs. socialism! in the contextually and informationally bereft and dumbed-down parlance of the times---the prisoners in Guantánamo experience absolutely no difference at all. The marketing spin we use to convince ourselves of our righteousness is important only to us, to our consciences; they make no difference to the victims of our policies. <h>An autobiographical report from Guantánamo</h> As documented in the article <a href="" source="New York Times" author="Samir Naji al Hasan Moqbel">Gitmo Is Killing Me</a>, the place is an abomination. <bq>During one force-feeding the nurse pushed the tube about 18 inches into my stomach, hurting me more than usual, because she was doing things so hastily. I called the interpreter to ask the doctor if the procedure was being done correctly or not. [...] It was so painful that I begged them to stop feeding me. The nurse refused to stop feeding me. [...] When they come to force me into the chair, if I refuse to be tied up, they call the E.R.F. team. So I have a choice. <b>Either I can exercise my right to protest my detention, and be beaten up, or I can submit to painful force-feeding.</b> (Emphasis added.)</bq> Heartwarming, no? America is, after all, about being able to choose, about freedom. Samir person has been in American prisons for over 11 years and has never been charged with a crime. He is in indefinite detention---in the Orwellian parlance of the day---and neither a release nor a continuation of his legal process is imminent. His plight is even worse than that of Prometheus, who, while doomed to suffer mortal wounds each day only to be resurrected the next, at least knew what his crime was. Samir endures his punishment with no explanation as to why, no idea as to how to end his suffering. <h>The American attitude toward justice</h> I can understand the sentiment that people have toward the alleged Boston bomber, with many Americans ready to hang him high. I understand the sentiment, but civilization is about letting cooler heads prevail, about innocent-until-proven-guilty, about constitutional rights, about treating all people as equal before the eyes of the law. Special cases---designating certain people as non-enemy combatants and other such nonsense---are just crude and stupid attempts to put lipstick on the lynch-mob pig. It is the extreme cases that allow us to prove how dedicated we are to justice. The Norwegians' treatment of Anders Breyvik shows them to be leaps and bounds ahead of us on the path to a truly moral civilization. They seem to understand our credos so much better than we. Are we not ever ashamed for our inability to quell our bloodlust, for the ease with which we are misled into believing the most simplistic of reasoning, our eagerness to be deluded into extremist and soul-damaging behavior? We seem to value retribution above all else, above even <i>trying</i> to make sure we're aiming our white-hot hatred at the right targets. Though I don't agree with the hot-headed vigilante-justice crowd, I can see where they're coming from: people died; people were injured; there is strong evidence that the guy they caught did it. He should still get a trial, should still get his rights, but I understand the anger. Where we really part ways is that it's not just the hotheads who seem unable to control themselves---it's pretty much everyone, from law enforcement to the media to the average Joe: all agree that exceptions must be made in these dangerous times. But I digress. Unlike Tsarnaev, the people in Guantánamo haven't been charged with anything. Hell, we don't even know what they might have done wrong, other than perhaps "harbor anti-American sentiments". Is that a crime? And now, after all these years of unjust imprisonment, the US is afraid to let them go because of what they might do? We piss them off by imprisoning them unfairly and then continue to imprison them because we're afraid that they'll be so mad at us once released that they might harm Americans? Or American <i>interests</i>? Or what? Are they super-villain cab-drivers or something? Like General Zod from Superman, who had to be imprisoned in an extra-dimensional cube to keep him out of trouble? Our we afraid that, once released, these psychologically destroyed and physically starved people will suddenly HULK OUT and lay waste to vast swathes of idyllic America? As purely an aside, did that not already happen when we let the so-called "masters of the universe" drain our economy and leave its husk by the roadside? We are willing to sacrifice our national soul to keep highly fantastical and utterly imaginary threats at bay while we allow far greater damage to be wrought without so much as a peep. The Hulk could not wreak as much damage to America as either our headlong plunge into a security-state nightmare or our corruption-and-fraud-driven housing-bubble collapse has. But, again, I digress. To conclude, we have all of this turpitude under the purportedly most liberal, socialist President that America could possibly hope to elect. The world waits, I'm sure, with bated breath to see what marvel of fascist thought will be elected by Americans ignorant of reality and hungry for revenge against a world that hates them. <h>Insult to injury</h> Guantánamo is an abomination without even considering the perversity of keeping a military base/prison on a corner of an island nation against which the US has blockaded all other economic activity for over 50 years (Cuba, for those weak in geography or US political history). Cuba won't have anything to do with them until they overthrow their communist government and open themselves to foreign private investment---and it is an ever-present danger to the US. So dangerous that we have a military base in their country, despite their status as an enemy. And we're perpetrating the most horrific human-rights violations there. Is it any wonder that they say that irony is dead in America? It's utterly, utterly awful. The NYT is so utterly typical of the US, a perfect representative of the American psyche. Even in the face of such an affront to any ethical or moral standard worth mentioning, they <i>still</i> focus only on the economic/fiscal impact of any given issue (as does Obama). You're not allowed to use anything else as a reason in America. All of the reasoning above, based on what is perceived as <i>right and wrong</i> is null and void in what are deemed the serious policy circles. For example, the article cites Obama as, <bq>[d]escribing the prison in Cuba as a waste of taxpayer money that has had a damaging effect on American foreign policy</bq> <i>That's</i> why we should close it? Because we're losing money and it hurts <i>us</i>? Not because it's gulag? Thanks for the moral compass, New York Times. <h>Close Guantánamo? Or just move it?</h> And, as mentioned in the article, Obama never really wanted to <i>close</i> Guantánamo; he wanted to <i>move</i> it to a splendid, comfortable, super-max facility on the US mainland. Congress thwarted him in his efforts because nobody wanted these super-criminals in their white-picket-fenced midst. Would a super-max American prison have been better, somehow? Those, too, are an affront to all that we would consider civilized, with prisoners in solitary confinement for over 23 hours per day. By all rights, they are not legal by American standards, if we interpret "cruel and unusual punishment" at all literally. But the only part of the Bill of Rights that any God-fearing, <i>real</i> American cares about is the Second Amendment anyway. Is that not also indicative of our war-like nature? Of our utter vapidity? That we cling to the right to fight back against government tyranny, all the while allowing all of the other rights for which we fought to be taken away in the name of security? The first, fourth, fifth and eighth Amendments<fn>---the most prominent examples---are obviated with nary a peep. But as long as we have the right to bear arms, we can get all of those back whenever we want? We are either collective really <i>that</i> stupid <i>or</i> we're collectively really that small-minded and mean to think that those lofty rules only apply to us and our kind. That there are certain <i>kinds</i> to which we should not extend these precious and pristine rights because those are the bad guys. And how do we know that they're bad? Well, they hate our freedoms, don't they? I shall endeavor to make that my last digression, or I'll never finish this article. <h>The real victims</h> And not only are most of the people in Guantánamo innocent---they have, at any rate, never been charged---but they've actually been cleared to leave for years. Unfortunately, the transfer procedure is just taking a little while. As stated above, this is not an Obama thing. It wasn't solely a Bush thing, either. It is a thing birthed from America's putrid soul, a soul full of bile directed toward the "other", manipulated and honed to a fine point by selfishness and mind-boggling and deliberate ignorance as well a gigantic dollop of propaganda such as the world has never seen.<fn> And this is not hyperbole. Read the following casually deposited statement from the New York Times ---considered the leading, left-wing rag by many <i>real</i> Americans. <bq>Mr. Obama was ambiguous about one of the most difficult problems raised by Guantánamo: what to do with dozens of detainees deemed too risky to release but not feasible to prosecute. His policy has been not to release those prisoners, but to continue to imprison them indefinitely under the laws of war — just somewhere else.</bq> Look at the words: "ambiguous", "difficult", "deemed", "feasible", "continue to imprison"---this is the soft language of tyranny. A modern tyranny, to be sure, one that cares that you think of it as a democratic bastion, a harbor against the marauding hordes of evil that are eager to tear freedom from your babies' weakly grasping fingers. But the Times is discussing people that cannot be prosecuted for lack of evidence, but that the government---as well as the Times---<i>knows</i> did something bad, or intended to do something bad to America. Or thought bad thoughts about America. Or whatever. Evil is evil. Just be happy that they're behind bars and that someone is standing on that wall, protecting your American ass.<fn> The second half of the article is then concerned mostly with whether it's unethical to force the prisoners to stay alive, cutting our eyes away from the main horror to focus, as always, on … <i>us</i>. The Times is concerned that innocent American doctors are being ethically compromised by the force-feeding. If the force-feedings were carried out by soldiers (some are), would that be better? Would that fix the problem? That almost 2/3 of a prison population is suffering so badly that they're trying to starve themselves to death? But the problem that the times focuses on is not the prisoners' situation but rather the moral weight on the doctors' shoulders. Re-read the article and see the tone, see the information and angles that are covered. It's almost as appalling as the issues they skirt. The article <a href="" source="AlterNet" author="Amy Goodman">130 Men Are Starving Themselves to Death Because Political Cowardice Keeps Them Locked Up</a> includes government statements that reveal the same attitude. <bq>Some prisoners have reportedly lost dramatic amounts of weight, while authorities have attempted to break the strike with force-feeding and isolation. Many human rights and medical groups consider force-feeding a form of torture. <b>The U.S. government says allowing them to starve would be inhumane.</b> (Emphasis added.)</bq> It would be inhumane to let them starve to death, but force-feeding them in order to keep them indefinitely imprisoned with no charges is...what? Humane? Civilized? What the f&$k are we doing here? Just trying to push the whole issue back into the shadows, I suspect. <h>Try some empathy</h> As always, turn the tables, put the shoe on the other foot. When America invaded Vietnam and killed 50,000 of its soldiers in a deluded, mad war that they never officially declared while killing millions of Vietnamese who wanted to decide for themselves whether they would be communists or socialists, we mourned each and every life. I grew up in a country where the black MIA (Missing In Action) flag flew on every second lawn. Some still fly to this day. And that was for soldiers whose job was to travel 8000 miles to enforce our colonial will on another country. Guantánamo is full of cab drivers who were sold to the US and spirited first to Baghram prison and then to Guantánamo. If I know the US, they will agree to release the prisoners, but only if they first work off their debt---airfare as well as room and board for the last 11 years---at $2 per day. Then we're square. Forced-feedings cost money, you know, and you may have heard that we're a bit tight on cash lately. <h>Capitulation of the left</h> In the article, on a supposedly left-wing web site---it would be deemed treasonous by those Americans whose reality is shaped mostly by mainstream media---we read that <iq>We’re in crisis, and President Obama is doing nothing.</iq> But, plastered across the article is an advertisement for <iq>Brunch with Barack</iq>, as shown below. <img src="{att_link}screen_shot_2013-05-01_at_11.33.55.png" href="{att_link}screen_shot_2013-05-01_at_11.33.55.png" align="center" class="frame" scale="50%"> And this is one of the more compassionate journalistic views you will see on Guantánamo; imagine how much the rest of America cares about what is going on. Which brings us back to the point that Guantánamo is simply a projection of a deeper sickness in American culture, the need to view all issues through a simplistic---and utterly flawed---economic lens. Morality and ethics carry no weight in discussions whereas economics trumps all. And we don't even understand <i>that</i> facet very well. The economic lens through which we view all issues warps reality beyond recognition. Even a site like AlterNet cannot just report on the horrific human-rights abuses of the Obama administration without, at the same time, running advertisements paid for by that self-same administration's political party. Who wouldn't want to brunch with that hilarious guy who yucks it up with Jimmy Fallon or absolutely <i>kills</i>---the families of US drone victims will, I hope, pardon the expression---at the Correspondents Dinner every year? Again, citing from <a href="" source="AlterNet" author="Amy Goodman">130 Men Are Starving Themselves to Death ...</a> <bq>[...] the average American on the street does not understand that half of these men, [...] 86 of the men are cleared for release, meaning that the government has said that not only haven’t they done anything wrong, but they’re not dangerous, that they could be released immediately. And they languish there in Guantánamo while the president is guffawing with, you know, the social elite in Washington.</bq> The lawyer for eleven of these men continues in his interview, <bq>But that’s not what we—who we are as a country. As a country, we don’t hold people for what they may do in the future.</bq> This is where he is dead wrong. The America to which he refers---if it ever existed other than on paper---is gone. There is a large majority of Americans absolutely falling all over themselves to convict people of pre-crimes---so long as they are people that the media has assured them are dangerous and---and this part is critical---so long as they are people that they do not know. Destroy the other to provide a façade of safety. We're not even clever enough to come up with a new way of being evil, settling instead for a banal rehashing of history, utterly oblivious of Santayana and Vidal.<fn> <hr> <ft>As noted in <a href="">Obama Renews Push to Close Cuba Prison</a>, <iq>Of the 86 low-level detainees who were designated in January 2010 for potential transfer but remain incarcerated, 56 are Yemenis.</iq></ft> <ft>Freedom of speech, freedom from illegal search and seizure, freedom from self-incrimination and right to due process and freedom from cruel and unusual punishment, respectively.</ft> <ft>The old joke goes that when the Soviet ambassador visited the US for the first time, he remarked that the countries weren't all that different, except in one significant way: that, while both were saturated in jingoistic propaganda, he said, Soviets were much more naturally cynical whereas "you Americans actually seem to believe it."</ft> <ft>Hat-tip to Colonel Jessup of a <i>A Few Good Men</i> for the phrasing.</ft> <ft>Gore Vidal wrote <i>The United States of Amnesia</i> while George Santayana is known for coining the expression, <iq>those who do not know history are doomed to repeat it.</iq></ft>