Sunday, December 20, 2009

Gitmo North

Watching America had in interesting blend of stories about the US. Most were about Barack Obama, and those were split between the Nobel Peace Laureate's announcement of a troop surge in Afghanistan and his appearance at the climate conference in Copenhagen. One article, however, had a different subject: that of President Obama's attempt to close down the prison camp at Guantanamo Bay. With its accurate analysis of the US prison culture, the article was a painful read.

From Germany's Die Tageszeitung:

Obama’s goal of closing the Guantanamo facility is thus one small step closer to realization. According to one of Obama’s first orders, Guantanamo was to be closed by the end of January 2010. That this will not occur is one of Obama’s bitter realities as this internationally very popular decision ran up against stubborn and totally irrational opposition in his own country. Besides, the measure resulted in many inevitable court rulings that were seen as advantageous to the inmates. ...

More than two million people are behind bars in the United States. American society cares about the fate of these social losers to the extent that they are locked away. The criminal justice system in the United States also creates jobs in many areas; where factories closed down, prisons were built so the unemployed at least had a chance to work as guards, or in institutional laundries and bakeries. Thomson was one of those lockups, but its prisoner population today is a mere 200 inmates. ...

This all worked without any great difficulty, as long as the inmates consisted only of spree killers, murderers, rapists and narcotics kingpins. But those coming from Guantanamo apparently belong to an entirely different category, presumably some kind of monsters with supernatural powers. Republican Sen. John Cornyn of Texas was “deeply disturbed” by Obama’s plan and remarked, “This action will expose our citizens to unnecessary danger; that’s unjustifiable and unacceptable.”


The opinion writer pretty much nailed the US penchant for locking people up and throwing away the key, although it does not take into consideration the huge number of people in prison for drug-related crimes, such as simple possession. Still, the implication is clear: the US is more interested in incarceration than in rehabilitation. And that implication leads to the next, one that is even more damaging to a nation which claims to be devoted to the Rule of Law.

"The only thing that President Obama is doing with this announcement is changing the ZIP code of Guantanamo," said Tom Parker, Amnesty International USA policy director. "The detainees who are currently scheduled to be relocated to Thomson have not been charged with any crime," Parker said. "In seven years, the U.S. government, including the CIA and FBI, has not produced any evidence against these individuals that can be taken into a court of law." [Emphasis added]

During the election campaign, Barack Obama promised to close down Guantanamo Bay. Many of us and most of the rest of the world were relieved when he moved to keep his promise shortly after his inauguration. Unfortunately, the promise was an empty one, as Tom Parker pointed out. Those prisoners who have not been charged are simply being transferred from one locale to another. The president intends to hold them indefinitely because they are "dangerous," even though no credible and admissible evidence has been produced to justify the detention, contrary to the requirements of the US Constitution.

This is both deeply shameful and extremely dangerous, more dangerous to our democracy than the 70 or so men being transferred could ever be. It is also a continuation of the Bush-Cheney administration policies.

No change here.

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