Thursday, May 21, 2009

Fear Factor

A few weeks ago, JT and I were listening to NPR and a reporter made mention of American detention facilities at Guantanamo Bay. JT said to me, "Wait, I thought that President Obama closed that place. That's a bad place."

In January, I had explained to my son why it was necessary to close Gitmo. Things like our Constitution, its pledge of habeus corpus, our need to stand for the rule of law....all of them figured prominently in my explanation of why President Obama's pledge to close American facility at Guantanamo was a very good idea. I'm not alone in understanding this reality. But I might as well be, if the U.S. Senate is any indication.

Nearly every day for the past month, Republican Senator Mitch McConnell has made a speech on the Senate floor, complaining about President's Obama's intention to shut down the American detention facility at Guantanamo. McConnell makes the same dubious argument each day: Gitmo keeps us safe. It's a simply ridiculous argument. For one thing, we don't actually know how dangerous the folks at Gitmo are because we haven't had trials for most of them. In the absence of clearly stated legal charges and application of the rule of law, we don't know. I suspect that most of the 241 people being detained at Guantanamo are probably bad guys. But the only way to be certain about that is to have trials and let the sun shine on their deeds. If the evidence points to guilt, we can lock them up in any one of the many high security federal prisons we currently maintain. Those places hold scary prisoners now and will hold them in the future. They can certainly accommodate additional bad guys. And if there is not enough evidence to convict Gitmo detainees of crimes, then we should set them free. Because that's how we treat those found non-guilty: we let them go.

I wish I could point the finger at Republicans alone, but they aren't the only party guilty of foolish thinking on this issue. Tuesday, Democrats removed funding to close Gitmo from a military budget bill. The Democratic Majority Leader, Senator Harry Reid, pledges that once the Obama Administration presents a plan for closing the base, the Congress will debate the provision and, presumably, allocate the funds. This act constitutes a Democratic party willing to yield to Republican fear-mongering about Guantanamo. I am disappointed in their shortage of courage and their lack of leadership.

I believe in the promise of the American constitution and its pledge of equal treatment under the law. I believe that being confined to a prison without counsel or knowledge of the charges against you is a violation of human rights. I know it's a violation of the U.S. Constitution. I believe that my nation must stand for a handful of principles. Foremost among them is the rule of law. And the law on this issue is clear. Startlingly clear. So clear that my 9 year old understands that what's gone on at Gitmo is wrong; he understands that we must close this shining example of American hubris.

Americans have long held dear the principle that protection of our freedom and liberty is worth dying for. Every day that we hold prisoners at Guantanamo Bay without presenting charges and scheduling trials for them, we make a mockery of that principle and those who died defending it. And in doing so, we demonstrate a stunning degree of hypocrisy to the rest of the world. It is that hypocrisy which places us at risk in this world. And I, for one, refuse to be governed by fear.


Jason said...

I think this "we can't detain them in the US because what if they escape?!" talking point is the most ridiculous, fear-mongering-to-idiocy, wingnut-pandering, nonsense I've heard recently.

This? Is political bullshit of the stinkiest order.

Nichole said...

I heard Saxby Chamblis (sorry for the speliing) yesterday say that 1 in 7 freed detainees has returned to subversive groups fighting against Americans. Duh. If I just spent years locked up without any recourse I might be a little pissed off, too. Sen. Ben Nelson from my home state said that his problem is that the US shouldn't have to may to house these people at all - send them back to their home countries where (hopefully) they would be locked up. At least then we wouldn't be paying to detain them.

And Rush Limbaugh in an idiot. Just had to say it.