The Problem with Gitmo

Detention of the “enemy combatants” at Guantanamo Bay is under increasing scrutiny, but the fundamental questions are still being ignored by the administration– and its critics. It’s time to reconsider why the Joint Task Force (JTF Gitmo) exists, in the larger context of the War on Terror. According to a report released last week by the Department of Defense, the JTF operations at Guantanamo are critical to US intelligence and security.

The simple fact of the matter is that the administration has decided to ignore our legal system, international law, treaties, and the “opinion of mankind” in order to arrest people, detain them indefinitely, interrogate them, and deprive them of any and all rights, civil, military, and human.

The detainees are defined as “enemy combatants” in the “war on terror.” It’s an undeclared war, prosecuted unilaterally by the U.S. government. The detainees were “captured” on foreign soil, for the most part, and the military has sole custody of them. By keeping them off US soil we don’t have to worry about pesky constitutional rights or the Geneva Conventions. The U.S. has detained upwards of 50,000 people and held them in various camps in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Cuba. Most of the details are classified. But we do know that detainees can be shipped off to a another country (e.g. Pakistan) because they can be interrogated there under conditions and using methods that our own military will not stoop to. Think about that– we know what our own military jailers did Abu Ghraib. What on earth could we want done that would require “extraordinary rendition?”

We don’t know how many detainees have been released or are still in custody, or where. All we know is that Osama Bin isn’t one of them. Many of the “bad people” that were detained were not engaged in combat activities or any other overtly threatening activity. There are reports than many of those detained in Afghanistan were actually “collected” by Afghani tribes and sold to the U.S. forces. There have been reports that several have died while in detention.

The most specific information we have is that over 200 have been released from Guantanamo, and “ten or twelve” of them have returned to the “battlefield.” Rumsfeld uses these numbers to indicate why these people are dangerous and we can’t just release them, but conveniently ignores the fact that some 30% of criminals in the civilian U.S. prison systems are arrested for another crime after their release.

Notice how upset the administration gets when they are compared to Stalin’s KGB or Hitler’s Gestapo. After all, you can’t compare 50,000 “enemy combatants” to the millions of innocent people arrested, exiled, or executed by those arch-fiends of the 20th Century. Or can you? Too much of the terminology is similar. Too much of the process is secret. Too much of the justification is political. Hitler and Stalin did not start their careers as mass-murderers. They started slow and worked their way into it, and both of them convinced their respective nations to give them more (and ultimately absolute) power, in the interests of “security.” So you can’t obviate the comparison on the basis of scale.

There are suggestions that the detainees are somehow more dangerous to the security of the United States than ordinary criminals and so they do not deserve the protection of the law. Our system of law is good enough to prosecute a Charles Manson, or a Ted Kaczynski, or a Tim McVeigh. We even have Muslim terrorists in US prisons, who were charged with an actual crime, tried, and convicted in our courts.

There are suggestions that the intelligence that we have gained from interrogation of the detainees is invaluable, and that there is no other way to get it. Sorry, you’ll have to take the government’s word for it. Even though it’s contradicted by the common wisdom that information obtained under “augmented interrogation” is not reliable.

We are still waging a couple of other ideological wars– the War on Drugs comes immediately to mind. If the administration continues to get away with dehumanizing the “enemy combatants” in the War on Terror, what’s to stop them from applying the same terminology, and the same methods, to drug dealers. They would have the full support of large sectors of the population. Then they can go after sex-offenders and illegal immigrants. And gays. And, finally, the rest of us who dissent.


What do you think? Please enter a comment below.

One Response to “The Problem with Gitmo”

  1. Russ Says:

    President Bush and his buddies do not like to be called Nazis because Hitler was Evil. You can’t do anything wrong if God is on your side. Well all I can say is one day they will be called to account before a Judge that they didn’t appoint and can’t bribe.

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