We’re indefinitely detaining people; arguing that because they’re “enemy combatants” and because they aren’t on U.S. soil that they don’t deserve regular due process rights; and then asserting that they aren’t prisoners of war and therefore aren’t subject to the Geneva Conventions. (For the record, the U.S. government has also asserted that even U.S. citizens, apprehended on U.S. soil, don’t deserve due process rights if they’re deemed “enemy combatants”).
If the people being held at Guantanamo are so clearly the worst of the worst — and the government argues that they are — why not try them in criminal court? Or, if they’re captured abroad as prisoners of war, why not treat them as such? The creation of this flexible third category of prisoner sets a frightening standard.
Then we take it a step further and argue that torture is necessary to get information from these people, often invoking the “ticking time bomb” scenario — except that these people are being held for long periods of time, with no access to the outside. There is no ticking time bomb here. And regardless, torture is not justifiable.
And now we’re expanding the Guantanamo standard with our latest prison in Afghanistan.
While an international debate rages over the future of the American detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba, the military has quietly expanded another, less-visible prison in Afghanistan, where it now holds some 500 terror suspects in more primitive conditions, indefinitely and without charges.
The administration has been incredibly secretive about what goes on in these prisons. When the UN asks to see Guantanamo, Rumsfeld says sure — but you can’t see prisoners, or gather any information about what actually happens there. When the UN or Human Rights Watch or Amnesty or any of these other groups protest, Rumsfeld responds, “The International Red Cross was allowed in. They had access to prisoners, and look, they aren’t saying that people were abused.” Which naturally placates the average person — until you realize that the policy of the Red Cross is to never disclose what they see. They could have witnessed some of the most heinous human rights abuses possible, and they wouldn’t be releasing a memo about it.
Thankfully, this issue isn’t going away, and a few committed individuals are keeping it in the news. This week brings a handful of fantastic articles about Guantanamo, torture, and U.S. values. Check ’em out here, in order of how much I like them (If you read nothing else, read the New Yorker article in its entirety):
From the LA Times — American Gulag
Before Guantanamo: The U.S. policy of detention without trial had an earlier life — in South Africa under apartheid.
From the New York Times — Tortured Logic: No slope is more slippery, I learned in Iraq, than the one that leads to torture.
Part of the reason this bothers me so much is because I feel like we’re better than this. These are not the American values that I know, and this is not what Americans stand for. I don’t want to be attached to an ideology that promotes the torture of other human beings in the name of “national security,” or that brushes aside our most basic values for a little more flexibility. I think it’s irresponsible to put our soldiers in a position where, should they be captured, their captors will have no reason to think that the Geneva Conventions should apply — after all, if the U.S. isn’t following international law, why should they? I think it’s terrifying that we’re stepping all over basic constitutional rights, ignoring the treaties we signed to protect our own troops, and lowering our standards to barbaric levels. We’ve seen the dangers in shifting our basic ideas of due process and equal protection (hello there, Japanese-American internment), and across the globe we’ve witnessed the problems inherent in an unchecked executive power. And I have no doubt that Guantanamo and our current policies will be judged harshly, and will be looked back on shamefully.
Someone defend Guantanamo and the policies we exercise there. Explain it to me, please.