The Freeman's Burden:

To defend the principles of human liberty; to educate; to be vigilant against the ever expanding power of the state.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

The Case for Closing Gitmo

Posted by Hello

As the debate over the Guantanamo Bay prison camp rages on, I would like to step back and take an objective look at why this is such a hot button issue and why it matters. Gitmo has become a symbol for not only the manner in which the US conducts itself in its fight against al Qaeda, but also the hypocrisy with which the US deals with questions of foreigners and civil rights. This is indicative of how many people, rightly, feel is the arrogance and bully mentality that the US employs in pursuing our interests around the world. Does the reality of what is happening at Gitmo match the perception that has been created? Probably not, but that isn't really the point. Perception trumps reality, especially in the Middle East where rumors take flight driven by a combination of paranoia and righteous indignation that leads people to assume the worst about the United States and our motives.

The Declaration of Independence states that..."We hold these truths to be self-evident, that ALL MEN are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness." Please note that it does not say "all Americans", it says "all men" and that is exactly what it means. Philosophically, the idea is that Rights come from God, therefore they cannot be given or taken away by man. It is the key foundation of out Constitutional liberties, from which all other American conceptions about rights and the role of government spring. By shipping enemy combatants to Cuba and denying them due process, President Bush has acted in a manner that is contradictory to our most fundamental values. People in the rest of the world are acutely aware of this as they are often more cognizant of American ideas about freedom and liberty then most Americans. This perpetuates the idea that Americans consider themselves more equal then most and fuels the anger that drives our enemies.

Secondly, by the admission of the administration, most of the detainees at Gitmo were captured on the battlefield, defending their property and families against a foreign invasion. I confound you to imagine that under conditions of invasion by foreign forces, that YOU wouldn't pick up arms to defend yourself, your family and your property. Granted, some of those detained were foreigners to Afghanistan and Iraq. Americans are foreign to South Korea, but would we accept illegal combatant status in North Korean or Chinese detention camps? The administration has argued that those detained don't "deserve" Geneva Convention protections because they did not wear uniforms. Neither did the American rebels that liberated this country, nor would I if I were defending my nation from a foreign invasion, neither do most combatants in most countries around the world. Uniforms are often only worn in countries wealthy enough to provide them, or for ceremonies and special occasions. Many of the militaries and para-militaries currently fielded around the world do not wear uniforms but are, none the less, lawful combatants.

The administration has argued that if they did not have Gitmo, they would have to give these detainees access to American courts. Well, if they are confident that they cases against these detainees is sufficient to deny them their freedom and their due process rights by housing them indefinitely at Gitmo, then they should be at least as confident that they can make that case in a US court. The only reason not to give them due process is because they intend to treat them in a manner that is NOT consistent with our human rights obligations. Does not the fact that we are warehousing prisoners on a Communist island with a long record of human rights abuses of its own not strike you as contradictory to our American values?

Dismantling Gitmo and guaranteeing human rights to detainees will strengthen the US effort against Al Qaeda. Many are arguing that closing Gitmo will show weakness to our enemies and hurt the war effort. That is silly. The symbolic damage caused by Gitmo vastly outweighs any harm that would be done by conceding that the camp is a PR failure and restructuring the system for dealing with legitimate Al Qaeda warriors who intend to do harm to the United States. It would show that America is humane, pragmatic and consistent in promoting the values we espouse without setting anyone free or sacrificing security.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Good post, free2. I have wondered about how the American example of freedom on Cuba has affected the Cuban people's perception of America. Not enough to prevent some Cubans from coming to Florida.

7:39 AM  

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