2005/05/28

Friedman sees the light

Shut it down. Just shut it down.

I am talking about the war-on-terrorism P.O.W. camp at Guantánamo Bay. Just shut it down and then plow it under. It has become worse than an embarrassment. I am convinced that more Americans are dying and will die if we keep the Gitmo prison open than if we shut it down. So, please, Mr. President, just shut it down.
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Why care? It's not because I am queasy about the war on terrorism. It is because I want to win the war on terrorism. And it is now obvious from reports in my own paper and others that the abuse at Guantánamo and within the whole U.S. military prison system dealing with terrorism is out of control. Tell me, how is it that over 100 detainees have died in U.S. custody so far? Heart attacks? This is not just deeply immoral, it is strategically dangerous.
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"This is not about being for or against the war," said Michael Posner, the executive director of Human Rights First, which is closely following this issue. "It is about doing it right. If we are going to transform the Middle East, we have to be law-abiding and uphold the values we want them to embrace - otherwise it is not going to work."


Well Tommy my boy, congrat-u-fricking-lations. You've finally acknowledged what was screamingly obvious to us anti-war liberals/progreessives/leftists from the very beginning. It's not that many of us opposed the War on Terror, most of us agreed that al Qaeda had to be punished for 9-11 and that taking down the Taliban government of Afghanistan seemed like an appropriate response (It's become obvious since then that the whole 9-11 story is a lot more complicated than “Bad guys attacked the US.”). But when Bush started talking about starting a war with Iraq, we noticed that he hadn't exactly done a bang-up job of restoring peace to Afghanistan. In fact, Afghanistan was in pretty lousy shape with very little reconstruction going on. By the time the Iraq War began, it was obvious that many of the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay were probably not guilty of anything and should have been held as POWs under Geneva Conventions rules or released. Instead, the Bush Administration made up a whole new category of prisoners (“Enemy Combatants”) that had no defined rights under any recognized international agreement. Since the Iraq War began, it's become more and more obvious that Iraq has become an absolute hellhole for both Iraqis and the American troops sent to occupy the place. As Riverbend comments:


We've been watching the protests about the Newsweek article with interest. I'm not surprised at the turnout at these protests- the thousands of Muslims angry at the desecration of the Quran. What did surprise me was the collective shock that seems to have struck the Islamic world like a slap in the face. How is this shocking? It's terrible and disturbing in the extreme- but how is it shocking? After what happened in Abu Ghraib and other Iraqi prisons how is this astonishing? American jailers in Afghanistan and Iraq have shown little respect for human life and dignity- why should they be expected to respect a holy book?

Juan Cole has some good links about the topic.

Now Newsweek have retracted the story- obviously under pressure from the White House. Is it true? Probably. We've seen enough blatant disregard and disrespect for Islam in Iraq the last two years to make this story sound very plausible. On a daily basis, mosques are raided, clerics are dragged away with bags over their heads Several months ago the world witnessed the execution of an unarmed Iraqi prisoner inside a mosque. Is this latest so very surprising?

Detainees coming back after weeks or months in prison talk of being forced to eat pork, not being allowed to pray, being exposed to dogs, having Islam insulted and generally being treated like animals trapped in a small cage. At the end of the day, it's not about words or holy books or pork or dogs or any of that. It's about what these things symbolize on a personal level. It is infuriating to see objects that we hold sacred degraded and debased by foreigners who felt the need to travel thousands of kilometers to do this. That's not to say that all troops disrespect Islam- some of them seem to genuinely want to understand our beliefs. It does seem like the people in charge have decided to make degradation and humiliation a policy.

By doing such things, this war is taken to another level- it is no longer a war against terror or terrorists- it is, quite simply, a war against Islam and even secular Muslims are being forced to take sides.


Friedman is absolutely correct and as Riverbend points out, the damage goes far beyond some manageable PR problems. It goes to the very heart of the War on Terror. Abusing prisoners does the US a great more harm than good. At no time has this been an acceptable policy. At no time has it been justified. I just wish he had noticed this three-plus years ago as opposed to waiting until now.

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