Monday, June 12, 2006

America, Redefined

Everyday the so-called "War on Terror" drags the United States further and further away from the ideals of liberty and justice upon which our nation was founded. This past weekend was no exception, sadly. Three men, two Saudi and one Yemeni, took their own lives in a clear indication of just how desperate the situation has become at America's gulag. What's worse, however, is the craven way in which the Bush administration and its supporters try to spin the actions of these men into an attack on the United States.

From The Telegraph, via The Liberal Avenger:

The commander of the controversial Guantanamo Bay interment camp has said that the suicide of three inmates was "an act of warfare" against America.

The deaths of two Saudis and a Yemeni have increased pressure on the US over the future of the camp for terror suspects in Cuba.

Rear Admiral Harry Harris, the camp's commander, said of the inmates: "They are smart, they are creative, they are committed."

"They have no regard to life, neither ours nor their own. And I believe this was not an act of desperation, rather an act of asymmetric warfare waged against us."

Another US official, Colleen Graffy, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy, told the BBC the suicides were "a good PR move to draw attention".

What kind of Orwellian nightmare is our country descending into when the suicides of three U.S. prisoners is dismissed as a good PR move? The sustained level of delusion required to see the "War on Terror" in this light is frightening in its mania. These are young men, one barely an adult, who have been imprisoned for years, with no charges, no trial and no access to legal counsel. They've been labeled "enemy combatants" in a "generational conflict"; a war that will never end. I agree with the admiral: these men are smart. No doubt smart enough to realize that they were never likely to leave Gitmo or, if they did, they would likely face rendition to a nation hostile to them. Even if these men were part of the possible many prisoners at Gitmo imprisoned essentially for being in the wrong place at the wrong time and are innocent of the terrorism allegations against them, what would it have mattered? If the U.S. didn't believe them worthy of civil rights, is there any reason the Saudi government would have?

In no possible light does Harris' or Graffy's assessment of these men's motivation make any sense, except in the context of purely political damage control. Rmj at Adventus poses the question thus:

So, these men were so desperate to kill Americans, they committed suicide themselves for the cause, hoping their terrorist brothers would then be released, free to kill again?

Once you dehumanize your enemy, you dehumanize yourself.

With the bolded line, Mr. Jeffers hits the nail right on the head. It's deplorable enough what the Bush administration's treatment of prisoners at Guantanamo is doing to them. But another great loss is what it's doing to the United States. We've allowed the proponents of the "War on Terror" to fundamentally alter our national character, dragging it back into the dark past of interment camps and McCarthy-style political profiling. If being a suspected terrorist is justification enough for imprisonment, torture and a complete stripping of all legal rights, even for an American citizen like Jose Padilla, then at what level does any American have any civil rights remaining? The actions of the Bush administration lay the groundwork for complete authoritarian control; a seizure of all our rights under the guise of protecting us from terrorism and prosecuting the war. At what point is the line drawn between acceptable and unacceptable when due process is ignored, torture and the unlawful detaining of prisoners are permissible and anyone protesting such is labeled "unpatriotic"?

Perhaps these men were terrorists, committed with Al-Qaida or some other shadowy organization, to waging an Islamic jihad against the United States. Or maybe, like other Guantanamo detainees, they were merely food vendors, taxi drivers and other common folk caught up in the "War on Terror" by being in Afghanistan or Iraq at the wrong time. Maybe they have legitimate complaints against U.S. policy; much of the world does lately. Either way, it's clear from the words of Harris and Graffy that the lives of these forgotten people in Guantanamo have ceased to be of any consequence. These prisoners no longer belong to the collective human race and have become something else entirely. They've evolved into a whole other species, an "enemy combatant" or "jihadist" or "terrorist", and have lost those fundamental rights our Declaration of Independence recognizes as being endowed to all mankind. "All mankind" just doesn't apply within those prison walls and it's quickly ceasing to apply back here, either.

For we Americans have changed as well. Many among us, enamored of the war and terrified of the amorphous Islamist threat, have embraced Guantanamo Bay and all for which it stands. We've become a nation that excuses torture, justifies force-feedings, accepts open-ended detainings without criminal charges. We've heard the fear preached by pro-war conservatives and have invited that fear into our homes. We've become so accustomed to living with it that we can turn our back on almost any atrocity so long as we believe it's keeping that fear at bay. Even those of us who opposed the war and believe Guantanamo should be torn down, it's rubble cast to the bottom of the ocean, cannot escape the dehumanization that Bush's foreign policy has bestowed upon us. We are America and every act our country commits is done in our names, whether we approve it or not. That's another of those "costs of freedom" that conservatives like to talk about: the responsibility that comes with the actions of a free society.

In some ways, we're all Harris and we're all that starving man living with no hope of a future in Gitmo. Our differences lie only in whom we identify with most.

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