>> Wednesday, January 11, 2012

If there's a single issue that exemplifies my loss of faith in my President and my loss of faith in my entire government, it's probably the detention center at Guantánamo Bay. The prison camp turned ten, today, if you missed the news somehow. What's the old Morrissey line, "I've come to wish you an unhappy birthday, because you're evil and you lie"? Different subject matter, not a wholly unrelated sentiment.

Part of what is frustrating, of course, is the pure impotence I feel. President Obama has broken a campaign promise to close the camp, but he's been abetted in doing so by the moral cowardice of Democrats and Republicans in the Legislative branch who have blocked the transfer of prisoners from Guantánamo to effectively bar any attempt to close the prison. And it isn't as if whichever member of the Gang Of Idiots And Jon Huntsman the GOP selects as their 2012 presidential candidate is going to shut Gitmo down. (And, gods know, if, let's say for instance, the Republicans somehow chose Rick Santorum for a candidate and he somehow pledged to close Gitmo, would that be worth voting for someone who thinks Griswold vs. Connecticut was wrongly decided? Ditto for the guy who wants to restore America to the glory days of The Gilded Age, the guy who reminds everybody of a dumb clone of George W. Bush, the guy who was willing to shut down the Federal government because he didn't get to leave an airplane the way he wanted to,1 or the vaguely evil guy who's totally out-of-touch with all the working schleps who don't actually have the option to switch insurance companies at a pleasurable whim.)

It could have been different. It didn't have to be this way. You look at the Wikipedia entry, and the Bush Administration didn't even keep very good records of who they had down there (that's a surprise). And then the Congress pretty much took it out of President Obama's hands and he signed the 2011 Defense Authorization Bill, saving whatever ammo he has left for other fights. I'm not trying to deflect blame off the current administration, I'd like to be clear, because I happen to think the buck pretty much stops at the President's desk regardless of whether or not your last name's Truman. It's an ongoing cluster fuck, is what it is, and it didn't have to be. The Bush Administration could have started having trials for these guys and the Obama Administration could have continued with them, and Congress could have stayed out of the way and just signed the checks to keep the courtroom lights burning. At this point, the whole debate over civilian trials or military tribunals is a quaint bit of political nostalgia; in retrospect, any kind of hearings at all would have been an improvement over what's probably become a kind of American gulag of sorts. I might have settled for kangaroo courts featuring actual boxing marsupials, now that I look back on it.

I'm a lawyer. I like to think that the whole concept of laws and courts and hearings and trials and due process and the rest are fundamentally sound, no matter how frequently events in my professional life or in the news set out to dismantle my faith with the methodical diligence of a cat disassembling a mouse she's caught. No, that's wrong: I don't like to believe it, because the belief truthfully causes me grief much of the time, but I have to believe it because it keeps me from becoming a drunk. I believe it with the one-eye-shut cynicism of Blaise Pascal wagering on the existence of God, because to believe our legal system might be functional and good causes me little harm while a rejection of that belief means that I have pretty much wasted almost twenty years of my life if you count law school.

Hence, I'd like to think we could have trials for all these guys in Guantánamo, military, civilian, whatever, and that these trials could mostly be fair and mostly achieve the right results. But I don't suppose it will happen. I don't suppose anybody wants to deal with whether some of these guys are utter innocents who have been falsely imprisoned for ten years and others are so dangerous we would have all been happier if they hadn't been breathing when they were run to ground. (And, let's be honest, I think reasonable people would have to agree that there are representatives of both these classes of people, along with all the ones falling into categories in-between.) It is much more convenient to let them all grow old together in Cuba, I suppose, and if they didn't want to die in an American prison camp, they shouldn't have allowed themselves to be captured in places we attacked. It's much easier, at least, than some Latinate crapola Congress stuck on the back end of the Constitution in 1789.

There's not much more to add to this, is there? There is nothing here but fatalism and despair. No votes to cast, petitions to sign. You can march in the streets if you want to lose a few pounds, you can sit in the park if you like the taste of astringents. I might, instead, just pour myself a drink.

But only, you know, just the one.

1True story: I'm driving down I85 to get to work this morning, and suddenly realize the tour bus I'm following is Newt Gingrich's, obviously on its way down to South Carolina for some heated Romney-bashing because Newt may or may not realize he has no chance of winning the nomination, but after getting pistol-whipped by Romney's superPAC he at least thinks he can somehow take Romney down with him (I expect that to work about as well as Gingrich's brilliant attempt to get rid of President Clinton).

I sort of thought about flipping the bus off as I passed, but, y'know, it seemed kind of like a déclassé thing to do--the sort of déclassé thing Gingrich might do if he were passing Mitt Romney's tour bus, actually. Plus, I decided, it seemed like a pretty useless thing to do; I mean, if Newt happened to be looking out the window when I did it, he's the sort of arrogant bastard who would just figure there was something wrong with me. Someone flips the bird off at me, I wonder what I did wrong, how did I offend the other driver, what did I do, did I cut him off by mistake, am I driving too slow, etc.; you flip the bird off at Newt Gingrich, he's the type who thinks his shit doesn't smell and just assumes you're the asshole. And then, I thought, it's possible the only person who would see me flipping off the bus would be the driver, and I don't even know if he supports Gingrich or if he's even a Republican; the driver might be some poor SOB who just took a steady gig driving this bus and thinks Newt Gingrich is the biggest, sorriest, lousiest prick whose ass he's ever had to kiss for a paycheck, but his kid really wants to go to summer camp this year and the water heater's busted. The last thing he needs on top of all that is some turd flipping him off as he whizzes past, and just because he has to drive some dumb jerkwad's goddamn bus. So I refrained, you know? But I got round the stupid thing as fast as I could so I wouldn't have to look at it more than I had to.


Warner Thursday, January 12, 2012 at 9:12:00 AM EST

I served one enlistment, decades ago. Almost all, if not all of the legit (see above articles for non-legit) prisoners at guantanamo should be in a POW camp, they are being held for taking part in a war against the US. The leaders possibly could be tried, but the rank and file.

What Bush and Cheney did was make it legal to stand an American rank and file against a wall and shoot him/her.

Eric Thursday, January 12, 2012 at 9:30:00 AM EST  

Warner, thank you for those links, and I recommend all visitors read those accounts if they haven't already.

The fact that my country has pretty much abandoned the rule of law at Gitmo is depressing, frustrating and infuriating. Congress needs to authorize the President to hold reviews of all cases, hold trials for all of those for whom probable cause exists to believe they committed some criminal action or act of war, and release the remainder to their own governments. That won't happen, which makes the prison camp the most heinous moral failure of the United States Of America in my lifetime. One can argue that the deaths of innocents in warzones is a tragic but inevitable consequence of necessary acts of national interest. There is no moral argument for the proposition that a state can indefinitely detain individuals without charge or process; that is the essence of tyranny, rejected by essentially every legal philosopher west of the Urals from the time of The Enlightenment to John Yoo's hiring date.

Have we really become what we revolted against in 1776?

sibusisodan,  Thursday, January 12, 2012 at 10:43:00 AM EST  

Um. Wow. Thanks for the links to the NYT articles. That's horrific.

I'm trying to assume stupidity before malice - grievous miscarriages of justice occur even with the best of intentions - but the ongoing nature of this situation makes that a very hard thing to continue to believe.

Eric, you're right, the buck stops with the Executive Branch - although the Leg. Branch could have been less obstructionist about things.

I'm guessing Obama didn't push funding to close Gitmo through Congress immediately as a political calculation - that it would hurt the Dems more in the midterms?

I wonder if the conflation of support for Gitmo/War on Terror with American solidarity, security and patriotism may be viewed as one of the political masterstrokes of our generation?

Eric Thursday, January 12, 2012 at 12:35:00 PM EST  

sibusisodan, I think your guesses are pretty spot-on, including the assumption that a lot of the tragedy here has been the result of stupidity and incompetence at various levels more than its been malice. (Dubious comfort, that, to an innocent man swept up in a mistake, that his captors and tormentors didn't really mean him ill will, they just thought he was someone else.)

Today I was directed to an excellent Scott Horton piece that should be read, here. (Horton is a journalist who has done some of the most thorough, albeit controversial, exposes of alleged abuses at Gitmo. Particularly disheartening were pieces he wrote a few years ago about several prisoner deaths that very well may have been homicides, although there have been legitimate questions raised about the credibility of some of his sources; that is to say, Horton has documented serious and plausible accusations that absolutely merit investigation, but the reader evaluating the accusations may have some weighing of the evidence to do before reaching a conclusion.)

A particularly salient quote from the Horton piece:

Some 600 were released (mostly by the Bush Administration), and of the 171 still held there, a majority have actually been cleared for release. These eighty-nine men are something of a political ping-pong ball between Republicans, who continue to do everything in their power to keep Gitmo open and to block the prisoners’ release, and the Obama White House, which seems intent on keeping questions surrounding Gitmo out of the headlines. Obama pledged during his campaign to close Gitmo within his first year as president, but this pledge has gone unfulfilled—in part because he was slow to act, but largely as a result of congressional obstruction.

Robbin Friday, January 13, 2012 at 11:52:00 AM EST  

I don't have a lot to add other than to say I've never been this ashamed of the US. I consider myself a patriotic person because I think America is great and hold it to high standards, but it's becoming increasingly harder to remain optimistic. This morning I read an incredibly depressing article on juvenile detention in the New Yorker and learned that every country in the world has ratified the the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child (which, among other things, forbids life imprisonment for juveniles), except for the United States and Somalia. Again, the US, along with SOMALIA, will not sign a document declaring the rights of children. It's not to say other countries don't abuse the rights of children, but signing the declaration is at least a symbolic gesture...and makes world leaders accountable for decisions they make. This is not entirely unrelated to your blog post since Gitmo notoriously held children...not sure what the update on that is and whether prisoners who were children at the time of their arrest have been released.

Robbin Friday, January 13, 2012 at 1:14:00 PM EST  

I forgot to say that I laughed outloud about you thinking about flipping off Newt!

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