Still Waiting

One of Barack Obama’s pledges when he first ran for the presidency, you may recall, was to close down Guantanamo Bay prison where a large number of political prisoners were being held after the attacks on the Twin Towers on September 11, 2001. Many of these men were later found to be innocent and released and others who might have been involved in the attacks but were no longer deemed a threat to the nation were released or sent to other countries who were willing to take a chance on their innocence. But in the interim they were held without the benefit of a trial and subjected to inhumane treatment, even torture, according to reports that leaked out later on. And 112 of them remain in prison at Guantanamo Bay to this day. Obama was on the moral high ground when he pledged to close down that place.

But his first attempt during his first term was met with screams of execration from frightened citizens and especially the Republicans in Congress who had pledged to fight Obama every step of the way during his presidency and were certainly not going to stand by idly while he transferred terrorists to this country where they might commit unknown atrocities because of their proximity to old ladies with gray hair and innocent children. Emotions ran high and the president backed down, sad to say. Well, as he approaches the end of his tenure as president, apparently he is now ready to give it another try. In the wake of rejecting the Keystone XL Pipeline recently he announced his determination once again to fulfill his campaign promise to close down the prison at Guantanamo Bay. As a recent Yahoo News story tells us, in part:

The new closure proposal, drafted by Obama’s top counterterror advisor, Lisa Monaco, and Defense Secretary Ash Carter would lift congressional restrictions on transferring detainees to the United States.

Inmates who cannot be released or transferred abroad would be housed at a US facility like Fort Leavenworth, Kansas or the Navy Brig in Charleston, South Carolina.

But that plan looks increasingly unlikely to pass muster in the Republican controlled Congress, raising the prospect of executive action, which would ignite a political firestorm.

In 2009 Obama issued an executive order to close the camp, prompting a furious Congress to pass rules that made the transfer of detainees to US soil all but impossible.

The White House has long said those rules are unconstitutional as they impinge on executive power. But it has tried to have them overturned rather than engage in a damaging political fight.

He has apparently decided to evoke executive privilege once again and risk the political firestorm that is sure to follow because he wants his legacy to read that he is a man of his word. Or so the story goes. He has certainly shown courage and deserves our applause in refusing to buckle down to the crazies in Congress on the Keystone Pipeline. I choose to believe he is thinking of his legacy and sincerely hope he gives Congress the finger once again before fading into the sunset. Heaven knows he hasn’t shown much moral courage to this point in his presidency.

But the fact remains that there are still 112 men incarcerated in that prison who have been there, subjected to inhumane treatment for nearly fourteen years and they have never even been tried. And this in a country whose legal system prides itself on the right to a trial by a jury of one’s peers. It remains a fact that even if these men are transferred to prisons in this country they will remain men who are incarcerated without the benefit of that trial.

There is a political issue here, to be sure, but there is also the larger moral issue. Transferring the prisoners will raise hell in Congress and across the nation by people who are afraid of their own shadow and think every person with dark skin is a terrorist. But continuing to hold them without trial, wherever they are held, does not solve the moral issue, even though closing down Guantanamo prison might seem to have done so. It’s a good first step. But it is only a first step — if we are to pride ourselves on doing the right thing.

Smoke Screen?

It is interesting to see how the media has turned its attention to the mother of the young man accused in the Boston bombing and who is now recovering from wounds in a prison hospital. As a recent story in Yahoo News tells us, the mother’s appearance has altered recently — from an ” 80’s rock star” to a middle-eastern Muslim.

But in recent years, people noticed a change. She began wearing a hijab and cited conspiracy theories about 9/11 being a plot against Muslims.

Now known as the angry and grieving mother of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects, Tsarnaeva is drawing increased attention after federal officials say Russian authorities intercepted her phone calls, including one in which she vaguely discussed jihad with her elder son. In another, she was recorded talking to someone in southern Russia who is under FBI investigation in an unrelated case, U.S. officials said.

Tsarnaeva insists there is no mystery. She’s no terrorist, just someone who found a deeper spirituality. She insists her sons — Tamerlan, who was killed in a gunfight with police, and Dzhokhar, who was wounded and captured — are innocent.

There are a couple of interesting points here. Ms Tsarnaeva claims there was a conspiracy surrounding the 9/11 attacks on the Twin Towers. She may be right, of course, even though conspiracy theorists are dismissed as devil-worshippers. There always is a slice of the truth behind conspiracy theories — which is why they are believed. This is not to say that we should embrace them as the whole truth — but we should not simply turn a blind eye toward them and dismiss them as the rantings of fools. Remember: even though you are not paranoid, they may be out to get you!

But in any event, the interesting thing here is the attempt by the media to turn our attention to this woman and keep us enthralled in the drama surrounding the Boston bombings. It is guaranteed to sell papers and keep the bombings alive in the minds of folks who tend to have short attention spans. But I ask in all candor, is it not possible that those in power would just as soon keep us aware of that tragedy so we will not turn our attention to the terrorist activities that we in this country are responsible for?  I’m just saying. This may sound like another conspiracy theory, but again there may be an element of truth in there somewhere. It is certainly the case that this administration does not want American citizens taking too close a look at what is going on “over there” where the deaths of innocent people make Boston look like a Sunday school picnic.   And when the subject does come up calling it “counter-terrorism” and blaming “them” for starting it hardly avoids the moral stigma attached to our activities. But from the point of view of those who like to mold opinion, it is better to keep people in the dark and their attention focused elsewhere. Continued reminders of the Boston bombings engender patriotism, whereas the truth about what is going on in the Middle East would almost assuredly engender humiliation and embarrassment, possibly outrage. Where better to keep our attention focused than the ongoing drama of two young men who not only planted bombs in Boston but were planning to move on the Times Square in New York and whose mother now wears a hijab and is an avowed Muslim. It does give one pause….

National Interest

In an episode of “Inspector Lewis” Dame Grace Orde has written an autobiography of her years with MI5 that promises to reveal all (some?) of the dirty little secrets of that organization. During a presentation prior to a book signing, she tells her audience that it is sometimes necessary to set aside ethics when it is a matter of national interest. That, of course, is right out of Machiavelli’s Prince. Or, if you prefer, it is out of John Stuart Mill’s Utilitarianism where he insists that the right thing to do is that action that produces “the greatest good for the greatest number.” In a word, the end justifies the means. In the real world of dirty tricks this is a given and I have less trouble with it as an abstract principle than I do as a concrete action or set of actions. where it is used to “justify” such things as waterboarding. The really hard question is: who decides what is in the “national interest,” or what will produce the “greatest good”?

A  case in point is the invasion of Iraq which was undertaken in “the national interest” by the United States with a “coalition” consisting of a few other countries for show. Even at the time there was considerable doubt about the wisdom of such a war which was initially undertaken to uncover “weapons of mass destruction” that weren’t there. When their non-existence was revealed, the rationale shifted to the capture of Saddam Hussein. When that was accomplished, the rationale morphed into bringing peace and security to a troubled country — whose troubles largely began with the invasion and the killing or displacement of millions of Iraqi citizens.

In any case, George W. Bush insisted later that he only undertook the invasion under duress, that he was “reluctant” to start a war in that region. There was considerable doubt about that claim at the time it was made, but there is even more now that Colin Powell has revealed in an upcoming book that the issue was never discussed in the Security Council. Powell’s claims, of course, directly conflict with those of the Shrub. But, given the weight of evidence on Powell’s side, and the fact that he has much less reason to say an untruth, I side with him on this. As a recent blurb surrounding the publication of Powell’s book puts it, But Powell supports the increasingly well-documented conclusion that there was actually no decision-making point — or decision-making process — during the events between the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the March 2003 invasion of Iraq, which had nothing to do with those attacks.

With the possible collusion of Condoleezza Rice, Dick Cheney, and perhaps his wife, the Shrub pretty much did this on his own in the name of “National Security,” or “Iraqi Freedom,” or whatever else came to his troubled mind. One man, pretty much on his own, decided to order the invasion of a sovereign nation on the spurious grounds of “National Security.” The man ought to be tried as a war criminal.

The point is that the principle advanced by Dame Grace Orde, or anyone else, may have the appearance of respectability when found in the pages of books by philosophers like John Stuart Mill or even the pages of Machiavelli’s Prince. But when push comes to shove, it translates into unmitigated evil — murder and mayhem, and even widespread disaster brought on by the fact that humans in power are motivated by greed and the love of that power and they seldom think about the consequences of their actions.