22 May 2006

A common sense return to the Constitution

On Friday, the UN released a report that called for the closure of the military prison at Guantanamo Bay. This isn't the first time such a call has been issued, and it won't be the last. But the fact that the Administration continues to ignore such calls bothers me considerably.

There are several issues at stake with Guantanamo Bay, and how the way the prison is run actually weakens U.S. anti-terror policy. First, the prison is a bastion of injustice where detainees have no opportunity for any sort of legal assistance whatsoever. They are just swept up, locked up, and kept there, without charge or trial. That's not the American way. You see, even if 90% of the detainees actually are terrorists who have planned to attack the United States, that still leaves 10% who aren't. Further, terrorists fight ideological battles. You don't convince somebody that democratic institutions are the way to go by throwing them in the slammer to rot. Gulags were Stalin's forte - American presidents have no business reproducing such institutions.

Next we have the whole martyrdom thing. Let's be honest here. What better way for a terrorist to go than at the hands of the great satan? The more of these guys in Cuba we screw over, the more terrorists we create globally. And I'm not just talking Afghanistan and Iraq here. Terror movements are growing in places like Indonesia and Darfur, and will be fierce in their own right soon enough. We actually reap dividends by giving these detainees a fair and public trial in a civil court. We gain nothing by treating them like dirt, no matter how criminal they are.

Finally there are the claims that the detainees are valuable sources of information. So great, we can find out where Osama bin Laden (OBL) was hiding six months ago. That kind of information doesn't do us a damn bit of good. Of course al Qaeda and other groups are planning attacks on the U.S. and its allies. That's a given, because it's just what they do. But, we can gain better intelligence by increasing the operations side of the CIA and refocusing the NSA on tracking foreign, rather than domestic, communications. Once upon a time there were operatives who followed OBL around and reported back on what he did. Now, not so much. Thus we've lost that valuable means of intelligence and we can't replace that with botched prison interrogations.

Basically, the U.S. needs to treat the Guantanamo prisoners like criminals: arrest them, charge them, try them, and carry out the sentence. I don't believe in going easy on them and I don't believe in letting them off with no contest. I just want to see some due process here. Just leaving them down there like pigs in an East Carolina hog farm, wallowing around in misery, does nothing to promote American interests.

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