January 22, 2010

Close The Guantanamo Bay Detention Center Now

I didn't expect a lot out of Barrack Obama, so I haven't been too disappointed thus far. It's clear that the supposed "filibuster-proof majority" was actually a goat rodeo, capable of absolutely nothing of consequence. I give Obama credit for the attempt, and I'm happy to have him in office. Just having someone of conscience in the White House will have to do for now. There are, however, plenty of things that need to be done that Obama can do himself . . . governmental transparency is one, elimination of "don't ask, don't tell" is another. Chief among these is the closing of Gitmo which, coincidentally, was supposed to be done by today. In spite of my anger over the death of the public health insurance option, this, to me, is Obama's chief failure as president. Certainly, closing Gitmo can still can be achieved in a reasonable amount of time, but the clock is now ticking.

This, more than anything else, is at the moral center that Obama wants to establish as the keystone of his legacy. All his other proposed policy initiatives, from healthcare to financial reform, from environmental legislation to civil rights, all have to do with shaping the American government in his own image. Closing Guantanamo is beyond right and left (in spite of how the debate is going down here); it goes to the very values that we articulate as American to the rest of the world. The idea is simple and powerful: we posit ourselves as the champions of justice in the world, so why not make our systems of justice available to all?

There are, of course, complications*, even post-Bush. The justice department has tagged 50 of the remaining 196 detainees ("detainees"? They are PRISONERS, people) to be held indefinitely without trial because there is evidence that they are dangerous to the US but not enough evidence to convict them of a crime.

Well, okay . . . first of all, let's start processing the other 146. Charge them or let them go. As for the 50, that's what the courts are for. Present arguments for holding the prisoners to a judge. Let the appeals work through the courts. THAT'S WHAT WE HAVE THE JUSTICE SYSTEM FOR IN THE FIRST PLACE. If a dangerous man gets set free, then so be it. The guilty have been mistakenly exonerated in the past. Our justice system is based on the principle that it's better a guilty man go free than an innocent man get convicted. That, indeed, is part of the American system of justice that we so proudly project into world, so it's time we live up to our values.

"But we are at war, and these are the enemy combatants!" the Bushies protest. Perhaps we are at war . . . if indeed we are, then the battle will never end. The days of truces and peace treaties are past, and war is now a permanent state of affairs. America in the past has been largely insulated from foreign terrorism, but now we are starting to fall in line with other parts of the world. And, since the new war of terror is a permanent state of affairs, it can no longer be considered special, and therefore does not merit special considerations or circumstances when it comes to the justice system.

We always hear the phrase "Freedom isn't free". That often refers to the blood of the soldiers who have suffered and died in our wars. It also refers to the sacrifice that citizens have to make in a free society, but the true nature of that sacrifice is usually misconstrued. The price of freedom is security, the price of security is freedom. America has not chosen to sacrifice freedom for security, but rather security for freedom: that is the true price of freedom. Police states are secure; free states are sometimes dangerous. Letting a potentially dangerous prisoner go because we can not prove he is dangerous could have consequences for our security, but holding onto him because he is potentially dangerous has consequences for our freedom. It should be clear what path we have taken, what sacrifice we have chosen. Americans may die because of the men released from Guantanamo; that, unfortunately, is the price of freedom.

I hate to think Obama has lost his resolve. More likely, he has just gotten bogged down with the reality of trying to turn back years of conservative control without any help from a Congress which, despite being controlled by Democrats, is still conservative. Perhaps he underestimated just how difficult it would be to close Gitmo, and in spite of being behind on his own timetable, he is actually doing a reasonable job of getting it closed. Certainly, as an act that doesn't require Congressional support, he doesn't need to shove it into the face of the American public in the same way he does policies which do require support. Whatever the issue, Obama needs to make sure that the closing of Guantanamo remains on track. The credibility of his presidency depends on it.


* One "issue" that is not a real complication is the national security issues of incarcerating the Guantanamo prisoners in US prisons. This bogus objection is one of the most unfathomable grenades that the right has lobbed at the Obama administration. If Obama, or anyone else perceived as a liberal, would have raised this issue in a different context, they would be excoriated by Republicans as unpatriotic and anti-American for doubting the security of our American prison system. It is stunning just how completely Republicans have abandoned all values beyond simply opposing Democratic initiatives and winning elections. "Republican" can no longer be considered synonymous with "conservative", "right", or anything else besides "anti-Democrat". At least they understand what it means to be the opposition party, for what that's worth.

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