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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Gitmo shutdown ends sad chapter in U.S. history

    Last Thursday, President Obama signed an executive order demanding the closure of the Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp within a year. This landmark event has provided endless material for conservative ideologues according to whom terrorists will be brought to our backyards, game the United States court system, and potentially walk off scot-free, their jobs made easier by the fact that we’ve surrendered a vital weapon in the war on terror.

    It’s rare for me to be so forthright in attacking proponents of a certain viewpoint. But it’s also rare for one side of an issue to be so irredeemably wrong that the entirety of their argument can be compared quite accurately to a childish schoolyard bully mentality. How can anyone seriously claim that the United States reclaiming the moral high ground, by closing an overseas prison renowned for the cruelty visited upon its occupants, is a bad thing?

    Defenders of Gitmo usually frame their arguments around the issue of “”giving rights to terrorists.”” But most Gitmo detainees are not terrorists. Of the 775 people who have been dragged to Gitmo for some reason or another since the war in Afghanistan began, at least 420 were later released without charge, and a large number of remaining prisoners are innocent. Simply because the United States government declares that someone is a terrorist does not make it true.

    Gitmo detainees have routinely been subject to dehumanizing and tortuous conditions including religious mockery, sleep deprivation, beatings, exposure, and the list goes on – to say nothing of waterboarding, an infamous practice which has been condemned by people ranging from John McCain to Chris Hitchens. People can refer to it as “”sprinkling water on a terrorist’s face”” all they want to, but that doesn’t change what it is – the psychologically and physically stressful simulated drowning of a potentially innocent person.

    Denouncement of Gitmo interrogation practices has a long and rich history. International groups have repeatedly proclaimed that such methods violate the Geneva Convention. But the Bush administration previously defended their practices on the grounds that terror suspects are not combatants of another state and therefore do not deserve the protections of the Geneva Convention.

    A few nutjobs, including Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia, have defended interrogation practices at Gitmo and elsewhere as Constitutional. The Eighth Amendment contains a very specific prohibition on cruel and unusual punishment. But according to Scalia, what we do to detainees at Gitmo, Abu Ghraib, and elsewhere, while it may be cruel and unusual, is not “”punishment”” as the recipient hasn’t been convicted of a crime yet. Scalia, therefore, appears to believe that the Founding Fathers would have been okay with beating the hell out of a man before convicting him, but not after, because then it would qualify as punishment.

    It certainly doesn’t help that cruelty to Gitmo detainees has been shown to yield false confessions and erroneous information and to fan the flames of anti-American sentiment, legitimizing America’s political foes and making us less safe. There are even a few reports of released detainees, incensed at their treatment by the United States, becoming radicalized and adopting new anti-American ideas.

    But this merely shows that Guantanamo Bay is unnecessary, not that it is immoral.

    The true central fallacy of Gitmo apologetics continues to be the erroneous belief that it is permissible to sacrifice our ideals, such as the right of prisoners to a fair trial and our steadfast refusal to torture, in the name of safety or security.

    This is the sort of utilitarianism you’d expect to see practiced in an East Asian police state, a dystopian sci-fi novel, or – dare I say – a radical Islamist group like al-Qaida. But it’s not what the United States ought to be practicing. Individual rights constitute the bedrock of our entire society; shouldn’t our policy regarding the handling of terror suspects mirror this?

    If the United States is something other than its most fundamental ideals, I don’t know what it is.

    The United States I love is the “”good guy”” in the global war on terror. We’re the side that doesn’t believe in torturing people, whether they’re guilty or innocent. We’re the side that adheres to the rule of law rather than performing legal gymnastics to get around it. We’re the side that sticks to our principles rather than abandoning them simply because we think they’re inconvenient.

    That isn’t the United States warhawks and neoconservatives believe in defending. Friedrich Nietzsche once wrote: “”He who fights with monsters must take care lest he thereby become a monster.”” The more we obsess about taking every opportunity possible to fight potential terrorists, the more we’ll find we have in common with terrorist groups.

    President Eisenhower would have agreed with closing Gitmo. He famously stated, “”Un-American activity cannot be prevented or routed out by employing un-American methods; to preserve freedom we must use the tools that freedom provides.””

    It’s good to once again have a President who agrees with this sentiment.

    -ÿTaylor Kessinger is a senior majoring in ecology and evolutionary biology, math and physics. He can be reached at letters@wildcat.arizona.edu.

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