America’s Cowardly Prison in Cuba

W.J. Astore

The U.S. government still keeps 41 prisoners at the Guantánamo Bay Detention Camp in Cuba.  Incredibly, some of these so-called alien enemy combatants have been imprisoned for up to 15 years without benefit of trial; indeed, without even being charged with a crime.  How is this possible in a democracy?  What does it say about our country?

I happen to own an old map of Cuba from 1897 that shows Guantánamo Bay, which is along the southeastern coast of Cuba.  Here’s a photo of a segment of my old map that shows the Bahia de Guantánamo:

IMG_1575

Who could have predicted that when our government, in an imperial land grab, “leased” this base from Cuba in 1903, it would become a century later the site of a loathsome prison for Muslim men snatched mostly from central Asia in a “global war on terror”?

In the immediate aftermath of 9/11, the U.S. government needed a place to send prisoners gathered in the chaotic roundup of suspects in the war’s opening stages.  Among other locations they chose the U.S. naval base at Guantánamo, considered a “safe” spot since it’s both isolated and not in the USA while also being far from the eyes of the media.  What was an expedient, a temporary holding facility, became permanent.  President Obama vowed to close it and failed; President Trump has vowed to expand it with fresh batches of prisoners.

In a remarkable piece at TomDispatch.com, Erin Thompson reminds us that the prisoners at Guantánamo are human beings.  She did (and does) this by curating and displaying their art works.  Their paintings, ship models, and other creations remind us that they exist, that they create, that they hope, that they dream.  The U.S. government has responded by asserting ownership rights over their art.

America’s prison at Guantánamo Bay has been a spectacular fail.  Its very existence amounts to a huge propaganda victory for terrorists and would-be terrorists everywhere.  It’s a stain on our democracy (what’s left of it).  In the eyes of much of the world, it reveals the USA itself to be a terrorist.

The persistence of this prison shows America is losing its own “war on terror.”  Our government lacks the courage to try these men because of fear a few might go free and perhaps spearhead future attacks, despite a national security complex that spends roughly three quarters of a trillion dollars to predict and prevent such attacks.

To paraphrase Shakespeare in Julius Caesar: Cowards die a thousand deaths; a hero dies but once. By keeping this prison open, and by refusing to offer justice to its occupants out of fear of what they might do if released, we are dying a thousand deaths.

The Bizarre and Scary World of Republicans

11TRANSCRIPTweb-master675
There they go again

W.J. Astore

I watched last night’s Republican debate from Florida (transcript here) and then checked this morning’s coverage from major networks such as NBC and CBS.  The focus of media coverage was the “civility” of this debate compared to previous ones, combined with typical horse race speculations about which candidate won and which lost.

Well, I can’t tell you who won, but I can tell you who lost: the American people lost.

Several lowlights from the debate that stick in my mind:

1. Marco Rubio was asked about climate change and whether human action, such as the emission of greenhouse gases, contributed to it.  Rubio essentially denied that human action had any significant impact on global warming.  The essence of his answer: the climate is changing because the climate always changes.  And the U.S. government can take no action to reduce it.

2.  Donald Trump held to his position on torture.  He believes waterboarding should be used, that laws should be changed to allow harsher means of torture, apparently because the enemy (ISIS) beheads its opponents or drowns them in cages.  He was not challenged on how he would change international laws against torture, nor was he challenged on consistent evidence that torture does not work in efforts to gain accurate intelligence.  Nor were any questions raised about the morality of torture and its proposed expansion if he wins the presidency.

3.  All of the candidates expressed support for sending U.S. ground troops, perhaps 20,000 to 30,000, to combat ISIS in the Middle East.  The situation was presented as a civil war within Islam between radical Sunni and Shia forces, but no candidate explained how U.S. combat forces could win someone else’s civil war, a war driven by fierce ideological differences.  Somehow, magically, the reappearance of big battalions of U.S. troops and massive displays of air power would “shock and awe” radical jihadists into collapse and capitulation.

4.  For the candidates, nothing Obama has done in the last seven years is worthy of the slightest praise.  Obamacare must be repealed.  The Iran nuclear deal is a disaster.  His forthcoming trip to Cuba represents a capitulation to communism.  His executive actions are illegal; all of them must be reversed.

5.  Each candidate tried to best the other on who is more pro-Israel.  According to Trump, “there’s nobody on this stage that’s more pro-Israel than I am.”  Apparently Israel is the only U.S. ally that is worthy of total support and unconditional love by Republican candidates.

6.  Trump refused to qualify his statement that there is “tremendous hate” in the Islamic world directed against the United States.  However, there was no reason given for this hate, and no sense that U.S. military actions overseas, to include invasions, drone strikes, and special ops raids, contribute in any way to Islamic animosity.  The candidates were simply not asked why some, most, or nearly all Muslims “hate” America.

7.  Finally, topics that weren’t discussed at this debate but which are commonly discussed at Democratic debates: racism, shootings by police against Blacks, prison and justice reform, raising the minimum wage, the rising gap between the richest 1% and everyone else, reducing the cost of college education, and efforts to guarantee affordable health care for all.  Nor were women’s issues, such as equal pay for equal work, mentioned.  Indeed, with the exception of Trump’s comment about women being mistreated by the Muslim world, women’s issues simply didn’t exist, not in this debate and not in most of the others.  Indeed, my wife turned to me during a previous Republican debate and said, “Not one of these guys cares one whit about women’s issues — they’re offering us nothing.”

And on that sad yet telling note, I’ll end.