Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Why Guantánamo Bay is not & never will be a model prison despite today's claim

One thing that has always amazed me about George W. Bush, Dick Cheney and the rest of the gang running the war on terror is their blind spot. This isn't a little blind spot. It is as wide and deep as the ocean.

Ultimately, this nasty thing is going to defeat them. If the American people don't find a way to stop Bush, Cheney and company, that blind spot will also defeat all of us.

What they can't see is very simple: The people we are fighting and the people who support them are human beings.

OK, take a deep breath. I know you can grasp this, George, if you try. Once again: The people who are terrorists and the people who provide them with financial and logistical support are human beings.

They are human beings just like us. Really, they are. They have families. They love their children. They get their hearts broken at times. They have favorite songs and foods they like and hate. They are most likely fighting for what they think is right, and perhaps, they even believe the ends justify the means.

OK, now I'm going ask you to make another mental jump. (I know you can do it!)

How would we feel -- and how would our families and friends feel -- if someone threw us in a prison without charging us with anything and then threw away the key?

How would we feel -- and how would our friends and family feel -- if:

  • there was no end in sight to our imprisonment
  • no one could visit us
  • the basic rights our captors claim for themselves are never available to us

Would everything be OK, if our cell was clean? Would it matter if we were well fed and had our holy book? How would you feel if you were faced with spending the rest of your life in a cell, as pictured above with no hope of release? The inserted picture, by the way, is supposedly of the detention center's bookless Library.

And just for today, I'm going to ignore all the reports of the mistreatment, and dare we say, torture of prisoners at Gitmo. Even without torture, even with the nicest cells in the universe (and frankly, that doesn't look like one, but I digress), even with all of that, Gitmo has got to be hell on Earth. It takes away the freedom and hope that every human needs.

The Everything-is-OK-at-Guantanamo Argument is exactly what Air Force Col. Morris D. Davis argued today in a New York Times op-ed column. Davis is the chief prosecutor in the Defense Department’s Office of Military Commissions. Davis writes:

Today, most of the detainees are housed in new buildings modeled after civilian prisons in Indiana and Michigan. Detainees receive three culturally appropriate meals a day. Each has a copy of the Koran. Guards maintain respectful silence during Islam’s five daily prayer periods, and medical care is provided by the same practitioners who treat American service members. Detainees are offered at least two hours of outdoor recreation each day, double that allowed inmates, including convicted terrorists, at the “supermax” federal penitentiary in Florence, Colo.

Standards at Guantánamo rival or exceed those at similar institutions in the United States and abroad. After an inspection by the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe in March 2006, a Belgian police official said, “At the level of detention facilities, it is a model prison, where people are better treated than in Belgian prisons.”

When I was an insanely young newspaper reporter, I toured Jackson Prison in Michigan. It was one of the most terrifying places I have ever been. However, the prisoners there had it much better than anyone at Gitmo. That's because I will guarantee you that every single prisoner at Jackson Prison had a trial. Except for those sentenced to life, every single one knew he would be released some day.

That's something that the people at Gitmo don't have. If the Bushies get their way, apparently those human beings will never have the certainty that they will ever be free again. Everyone who loves them, everyone who knows their families will, thus, have an extremely personal reason to hate us and fight with all their might against the United States.

In his NY Times piece, Morris also defends the Military Commissions Act. Note that this is the law that gives the president absolute power to call you, me or anyone he likes enemy combatants and to toss us in prison forever.

That act gives Bush the power to define torture any way he likes. That act declares null and void a basic constitutional right our Founding Fathers thought was important enough to fight for -- that's the due process right of habeas corpus.

We cannot stop terrorism by making the world hate us. And anyone with any empathy is going to be hoping mad -- or outright terrified -- at the idea that the U.S. thinks it can swoop down and detain anyone for any length of time just because Bush says we should.

People fight when they are furious and terrified. We cannot win by keeping Gitmo open. Our policy of ignoring the humanity of our opponents (and their families, friends and neighbors) will defeat us. If it hasn't already.

Here is what Human Rights Watch says about Gitmo. See the ACLU's useful page explaining in detail why the Military Commission Act is more than a little un-American.

[cross-posted from In This Moment.]