Another Black Eye

I have held forth about the inexcusable situation in Guantanamo Bay where forty presumed terrorists are still being held in prison without a trial, so I will not return to that theme. But I must note that for a country that aspires to be “Great,” the incarceration without a fair trial of men who may or may not be guilty of crimes against the United States is in opposition to all the basic rules of a civilized country, much less a great one.

In any event, of late we are witnessing another black eye for this country in its treatment of the hordes of people from Central America who are fleeing dictators and gangs, murder, rape, and mayhem to find a better life in the United States and are being treated like criminals, including the use of tear-gas and pepper spray on children and women. But the recent notice in a Yahoo News item is disturbing on an even deeper level:

A migrant mom was impaled in front of her children over the weekend while attempting to climb a fence along the U.S.-Mexico border, authorities said.

The 26-year-old Guatemalan native was trying to scale a fence near the San Ysidro Port of Entry, a crossing between San Diego and Tijuana, on Friday when she fell and impaled herself on pieces of rebar, according to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol officials.

We pride ourselves on being a nation that defends the moral high ground which, we like to think, is ignored by other nations in the world. Yet we read about the treatment of people, including women and children, in a manner that would embarrass even the nastiest among us — if they bothered to give it a thought. The “migrant caravan” of an estimated 5000 souls heading toward what those who comprise it hope to be the safety and protection of a great nation is considered by some, including our feckless leader, as an attack on this nation. In fact, it is simply a desperate attempt by people who hope to breathe the air of freedom.

Make no mistake, I am entirely in favor of “Making America Great Again.” I even agree that we can embrace the notion of “greatness,” and even identify it when we see it. I assume the America we want to return to is the America after the Second World War when actions like the Marshall Plan that helped rebuild Europe after the devastation resulting from the dropping of thousands of bombs on both military and civilian targets. That was a plan that must make us all proud: an effort to help rebuild a world that had been shattered by unprecedented violence.

Yet, in the name of “Greatness” we now see about us efforts to exclude and reject those who differ from us, those would make us uncomfortable. Even those we disagree with. And we treat women and children like cattle. Whether or not we embrace Christian virtues, and there are many who insist the nation was founded on those virtues, what we are seeing is the exact opposite of the virtues preached in the New Testament — which is a gospel of love, not hate.

One need not be a Christian, however, (and very few are) to see the inhumanity of the steps this nation is currently taking toward “Greatness”; to realize that we may be leaving greatness behind us as we head instead in the opposite direction entirely. Where is the moral high ground that Martin Luther King, Jr. dreamed about?

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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.

Out Of Sight

A story in Yahoo News about a prisoner outbreak at Guantanamo Bay is an ugly reminder of a very ugly chapter in this country’s history. It begins as follows:

MIAMI (AP) — Months of increased tension at the Guantanamo Bay prison boiled over into a clash between guards and detainees Saturday as the military closed a communal section of the facility and moved its inmates into single cells.

The violence erupted during an early morning raid that military officials said was necessary because prisoners had covered up security cameras and windows as part of a weeks-long protest and hunger strike over their indefinite confinement and conditions at the U.S. base in Cuba.

Prisoners fought guards with makeshift weapons that included broomsticks and mop handles when troops arrived to move them out of a communal wing of the section of the prison known as Camp 6, said Navy Capt. Robert Durand, a military spokesman. Guards responded by firing four “less-than-lethal rounds,” he said.

After more than ten years 166 men remain in close confinement without the benefit of a trial for being “enemies” of this country. While they were supposedly captured by American troops during the Bush Administration, many of them were, in fact, captured by Pakistanis and Afghans who were paid a bounty. Barack Obama’s promise, when he first ran for President, that he would bring those prisoners to this continent and they would be given a fair trial never was realized because Congress, and the citizens of this country, would have none of it. They remain in prison, visited by their lawyers and occasionally by the Red Cross. But they have no idea when or if they will ever be released to return home. They may, indeed, be enemies of this country. But that supposition is based on evidence that has never been made public or allowed the benefit of rebuttal. In a word: they are presumed guilty, a direct violation of a fundamental right of due process all human beings could lay claim to since the days of the Romans.

Most of us don’t really care about those men or their plight. It’s a question of “out of sight, out of mind.” And I dare say that is how the matter is supposed to be regarded by those who call the shots at the highest levels and claim their only concern is to protect us from terror. They don’t want us to know, for example, how those men are “force-fed” after it has been determined that they are on a hunger strike. Perhaps it is better that we not know. One wonders whether we might be better off being protected from our protectors. In any event, the situation in Guantanamo Bay is inhumane and a black eye on a country that presumably stands for human rights, liberty, and “justice for all.”

Our Perplexing President

Emerson once said “a foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.” He would love the sitting President who has shown himself to be anything but foolishly consistent in his various political stands. Take the following story for example:

WASHINGTON (AP) — For all of his liberal positions on the environment, taxes and health care, President Barack Obama is a hawk when it comes to the war on terror.

From deadly drones to secret interrogations to withholding evidence in terror lawsuits, Obama’s Democratic White House has followed the path of his predecessor, Republican President George W. Bush. The U.S. detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, remains open, despite Obama’s pledge to close it, and his administration has pursued leaks of classified information to reporters even more aggressively than Bush’s. . .

To be fair, the President did make an effort to move the prisoners from Guantanamo Bay, but the Congress would not hear of it. It remains an unfulfilled election promise, however, and, as a supporter and even an admirer of Barack Obama, this particular inconsistency disturbs me as I have tried from time to time to get my mind around it. I recall Dwight Eisenhower’s wise remark years ago “God help this country when someone sits in this chair who doesn’t know the military as well as I do.” I keep going back to that comment because I find it provocative and very insightful –especially in light of such things as Obama’s hawkishness. Why would such a liberal thinker be so hawkish when it comes to international affairs? It’s almost as though he is trying to one-up his military advisers. I worry that he is cowed by the impressive uniforms laden with medals clothing the commanding presence of the military leaders who surround him when he sits down with the Joint Chiefs of Staff.

Don’t get me wrong: I am not being “judgmental” about the President, as people love to say. It’s not my place to judge the man since in his shoes I would probably be just as cowed by the presence of those uniforms and medals. But I am reminded of the remarks made by Colonel Andrew Bacevich I quoted last month when he pointed out that “we have fallen prey to militarism, manifesting itself in a romanticized view of soldiers….” This man knows whereof he speaks as he comes to the problem from the perspective of a military man with combat experience who exhibits the same caution about the military that Eisenhower exhibited after he left the fold. These are words we need to take to heart.

It is just possible that Barack Obama, like anyone else who has never worn a uniform or fought in a battle would be awed by those who wear the uniform proudly and is told relentlessly (as we all are) that these men and women are all heroes to whom we owe our freedoms. As the article cited above goes on to point out, many of the Democrats in Congress share Obama’s hawkishness:

This past week’s confirmation hearing for Obama’s nominee to lead the CIA showed just how much Washington — Democrats especially — has come to accept the same counterterrorism policies that drew such furor in the first years after the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

Is it possible, I ask, that we are giving up our freedoms to the very people who are pledged to defend those freedoms with their lives? Is this the way we really want to go? I don’t think we should see President Obama’s hawkishness as a sign of weakness on the part of a man adept at the political game and otherwise liberal in his thinking. Rather, I see him as a microcosm of the rest of this society which seems ready to hand over the reins of power to those who wear uniforms — especially since those same men and women have the backing of the wealthy in this country who are also doubtless in awe of the uniform and transfixed by the military mystique.