Tuesday, May 07, 2013

Shame on US

(Editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich and published 4/30/13 by the Atlanta Journal Constitution.  Click on image to enlarge and then return.)

Doyle McManus visited the issue of the prisoners still being held at Guantanamo Bay, many of whom are being force-fed because of their hunger strike.  He raises a couple of important issues, but I think he left one crucial part of the equation out.

The president campaigned in 2008 on a pledge to close the camp; once in office, he signed an order to move the prisoners to the United States within a year.

Since then, however, in the face of congressional opposition and political obstacles, he has backed away.

Only now, with a hunger strike among some 100 of the camp's 166 detainees entering its fourth month, does the president seem to have reengaged.

Obama, of course, blames Congress for making it impossible for him to close Guantanamo. But as with most ugly messes in Washington, there's plenty of blame to go around. ...

Part of the problem, at least initially, was that the detainees' home countries didn't all want them back. But a State Department negotiator, Daniel Fried, went to work on that problem and solved most of it. Yemen has agreed to take its 56 of the 86 cleared detainees; Afghanistan has asked for 17 detainees back; even Britain has requested the release of a Saudi citizen whose wife and children are Londoners.

The Obama administration created another part of the problem itself. In 2010, after Al Qaeda put a Nigerian terrorist with a bomb in his underwear aboard a flight to Detroit, the administration suspended all detainee transfers to Yemen, where the plot had been hatched. Since then, Yemen has become more stable and the United States has worked with its government to build a rehabilitation facility for returning detainees, but officials say it isn't ready yet.

Congress weighed in too. Alarmed by reports that some released detainees had rejoined Al Qaeda or the Taliban, members of Congress demanded a formal assurance from the secretary of Defense that no future parolee would return to the battlefield. ...

None of those steps alone will result in the closure of Guantanamo. Obama has endorsed indefinite detention for terrorist suspects, at least as long as the war with Al Qaeda persists. Marine Gen. John F. Kelly, the head of Southern Command, says he's already thinking about upgrading medical facilities to take care of the detainees as they age.

But reducing Guantanamo's population would solve a big chunk of what has become an apparently insoluble problem. Resuming the transfers, especially for those who have already been offered a ticket out, would offer remaining detainees at least a shred of hope.

Obama and his aides say they are looking at all those remedies now. It's a shame it took a hunger strike to remind the president of his own convictions.   [Emphasis added]

All of this mess is complicated by the fact that some of the original detainees should never have been detained in the first place.  They were picked up because someone having a totally unrelated argument with them "sold" them to the Americans.  They weren't terrorists then, but I have no doubt that many of them harbor a deep hatred for the US today, so the point is, sadly, moot.

Others were picked up who were training for terrorism, but not against the US.  The Uighers, for example, wanted to fight the Chinese.  Unfortunately, the Chinese were financing our wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, so even though there were Americans willing to take the Uighers, that was not about to happen.

Even with these complications, however, McManus is right:  a president who supports indefinite detention without any traditional due process for suspects who might be terrorists coupled with a Republican determination to deny any kind of victory to Obama makes the closure of Gitmo nigh on to impossible.

The one element McManus did overlook is our role in this heartbreaking scenario.  We have to share in the infamy as long as we just sit back and shrug our shoulders, claiming impotence in the face of two mighty adversaries.  We should be screaming long and hard at our representatives, all of them.  We should be kingbirding them to the point that the media has to report our actions.  Otherwise, we share in the shame.

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