Friday, May 19, 2006

Should We Close Gitmo?

The UN Committee Against Torture says that we should close our prison camp at Guantanomo Bay. And... that committee should know. Members of the committee include countries like Egypt, Chile and China -- all experts in having, *evil German accent* "Vays uv making you talk!"

But, they're right. Even if, within China, probably at this very moment, more unspeakable acts, sponsored by the Chinese government, are occurring than what we've found out about Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, the committee is right.

I actually have a very Republican, pro-Iraq war, reason for taking this stance: We're supposed to be bringing freedom to people and "winning hearts and minds." In short, according to the Republican rhetoric that's driven our very aggressive post 9-11 foreign policy, we're supposed to be trying to convince people around the world to not only not hate the U.S., but to want to be more like the U.S. The logic, at least the logic of the right wing, aggressive rhetoric, has always been that we have to forcibly free people from their current governments because that, once free, they'll choose to stop fighting us and to emulate us.

But, for that to work... we have to be perfect. Being, "not as bad as some countries," simply won't do. World-changing, populist revolutions are never waged by people who assemble to "make things less bad." If Thomas Jefferson had started the Declaration of Independence with a call to, "Make the lot of the American less rotten than it is under the rule of the British," then we Americans would still be speaking bloody English right now. Thomas Paine didn't tell the colonists that it was "Common Sense," that their lives could, if they took drastic action, become somewhat less deplorable. Hell, Fidel Castro and Che Guevara didn't rouse the Cuban peasants to war with the promise that they would overthrow Batista in favor of a kinder and gentler oligarch.

See, though I think that Republican hawks have purposefully and dishonestly tried to sell us a fairtale that says that if we overthrow dictators, people will naturally assemble constitutional democracies, I do kind of believe in the root of the fairytale. The Divine Right of Kings only exists, after all, because only a God who doesn't answer direct questions would ever choose a King (the people, given a free choice, generally won't).

But, though that root idea is probably true... it ain't easy in practice. In fact, it stinks on ice. The American Revolution led to a country that almost fell apart a hundred times until the Civil War, when it did actually fall apart for awhile, and then it was reassembled. The French Revolution led to a Democracy that led to... Napolean as dictator. Gorbachev brought glasnots to Russia, which led to Yeltsin bringing nascent democracy and now we have Putin who, at the moment, might continue the democratic process or might wind up as a dictator who's still in power 20 years from now.

Throwing off the yoke of an oppressive government isn't enough. It wasn't enough for the Americans who did it to the British -- we had a war between brothers before it became clear that Europe wasn't going to take over again -- and it really hasn't been enough for ANY country.

If the mission of our foreign policy, at the moment, is to convince the people of Afghanistan and Iraq that they should work to form democratic governments in their country than we have to set an example beyond the one we've already set which, so far, can be summed up as, "We're so powerful that we blew your former governments to smithereens."

We are, in fact, what pop stars and athletes who want to party in their spare time always say they don't want to be -- we're role models.

How we treat our own citizens, then, is up for international scrutiny. But, beyond that, how we treat their citizens is being closely watched. I've too often heard the argument, about Abu Grhaib and Gitmo, that what our soldiers did to some Iraqis is nothing compared to what Saddam did to Iraqis. Fine. I accept the point. But, it's a pointless point. If we're to convince millions of scared and skeptical people that they should want to build countries in the mold of the U.S. then we can't behave in ways that can even be compared to how Saddam behaved, or how the Taliban behaved. If we're really going to "win hearts and minds," then we have to exhibit behavior that is so virtuous and civilized that to compare our methods to Hussein's would be as ridiculous as comparing somebody guilty of insider trading to Hitler. We simply must hold ourselves up to an impossible standard of goodness. Sure, we'll never reach that standard, but we have to be trying, and we have to be trying in a noticeable way. THAT will convince people.

One other niggling problem I have with Gitmo -- it's for both members of Al Qaeda AND members of the Taliban. Now, I have no problem with us being at war with Al Qaeda. They started it, after all. But, the Taliban? That was just a political movement. Yes, it was a political movement that I hate and that I think is retarded, but it's also a political movement that we were giving money to right up until September 11th. I don't mean to go overboard with my relativism here. For a long time before 9-11, lefties like me were arguing that the Taliban, which oppressed women and anyone who didn't agree with its theology, shouldn't have been getting money from the U.S. and, indeed, should have been sanctioned, if not attacked. The Left in the U.S. and Europe was anti-Taliban WAY before it was fashionable. My point is that while the Taliban was rightly punished for harboring Al-Qaeda after 9-11 that the Taliban didn't actually attack us. Al-Qaeda did. So, in a sense, Gitmo does house a lot of political prisoners -- people who were never in Al-Qaeda but who happened to be members of a political party that we actually supported up to its final days.

See, we can make fun of the United Nations for forming a committee full of countries that practice torture that has decided to wag the finger at us. And we can laugh at the U.N. because it's just a debating society that has a building on Manhattan's East Side with a view of Queens but that lacks the might, force or will to actually MAKE the U.S. pursue or abandon any policy. But, if the Republicans who spoke so loudly before and after the invasion of Iraq about the importance of using our military to free oppressed people and to win them over in a way that will turn their animosity towards us into admiration were really serious, then they should be leading the drive to close Gitmo.

With Gitmo open, with the indefinite detentions, the allegations of torture, the allegations that we send suspects to countries who are on that UN Committee (Egypt, I'm looking at you) so that somebody else will torture them... we're losing the battle for "hearts and minds."

Republicans, I'm calling you out here. If you really believe that the U.S. can use its military might to free people from dictators and that we can then use our own example to convince those people to rule themselves with some semblance of fairness and stability, well... if you believe that, I respect that belief. But, if you believe that, then you'll want to close Gitmo as well. And, you'll want to get to work making America a good enough, just enough, and joyous enough country that anyone watching from the outside will want that for themselves.

There are tons of cynical reasons for dismissing the U.N.'s request. But we could serve our own stated interests by doing what the U.N. asks.


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