Friday, October 21, 2005

Guantánamo Bay

Good or Evil?

President Bush often gives ridiculously simplistic speeches concerning the pure evil which motivates the "trrists". It's always black and white with Dubya, "we" are good and "they" are evil. There are no shades of grey in his world view. Real life is nothing like that of course but by stripping out the complexities of reality George finds himself better able to deal with a world he finds maddeningly confusing. That's my interpretation anyway.

The irony is that the "trrists" world view is built in exactly the same way but obviously with the good and evil tags applied the other way round. I often wonder if George realises that the terrorist recruiters use exactly the sort of rhetoric he's so fond of. More significantly, I wonder if he realises that when they do, their firm conviction that they are absolutely right is just as deeply held as his own. I suspect Bush can't see this. In fact, I suspect he thinks that the terrorists know deep down that they are evil but maintain a pretense that they are good in order to further their neferious schemes. That's complete nonsense but there you go.*

And that sort of leads us to the weird illegal limboland that is Guantánamo Bay. I find what happens there morally abhorent. Here's the latest story to have surfaced regarding the treatment of the detainees:
  • Force-feedings resulted in prisoners “vomiting up substantial amounts of blood. When they vomited up blood, the soldiers mocked and cursed at them, and taunted them with statements like ‘look what your religion has brought you.’”
  • “Large tubes – the thickness of a finger – were viewed by detainees as objects of torture. They were forcibly shoved up the detainees’ noses and down into their stomachs. Again, no anesthesia or sedative was provided.”
These details come from a statement made by one of the lawyers acting on behalf of some of the prisoners. Due to the secrecy which surrounds the camp it's difficult to confirm or deny these claims. They are certainly consistent with previous stories of mistreatment of detainees. And some of these detainees have been held without charge for close to four years. There is no question that what is happening at Guantánamo is repugnant to all decent civilized people.

But I'm going to take of my decency hat and look at this from the point of view of pure self interest. If we accept that it's necessary to do whatever it takes, however unsavoury, in order to defeat the terrorists then Guantánamo must be a good idea, right? It keeps suspected dangerous terrorists out of circulation and that has to be a good thing. Well, no, it's almost certainly counter-productive. It's manna from heaven for the terrorist recruiters. It fits perfectly into their world view; the US government is evil and they are fighting the good fight against that evil tyranny. It reinforces their own belief system and provides ammunition in their attempts to recruit more footsoldiers. They will say that the US government is waging a war against Islam, that the detainees are guilty only of being Muslims in the wrong place at the wrong time. They will say that the US government's talk of the importance of freedom is just that; talk. They will scoff every time Bush claims that the US is fighting for good against the evil terrorist menace. Their arguments might be less convincing if the US administration had attempted to produce evidence of involvement in terrorism against any of the detainees. As it is, the recruiters arguments appear reasonable to many people. The result is that support for the extremists is growing throughout the Muslim world. Pretty soon we'll need to build another camp for more terrorist suspects, and then another, and another...

Guantánamo Bay is a travesty. It is not only morally indefensible but it's also fuelling the very problem it is supposed to be solving. The US government must either charge the detainees with offences in an fair and open manner or release them. How long can someone be a suspect for anyway? Four years? Even our authoritarian maniacs on this side of the pond are only claiming to need 90 days. Charge them or release them. This madness has got to stop.

* A terrorist never considers himself a terrorist. He's really not lying. He genuinely believes he's doing the right thing (otherwise he wouldn't do it). He is almost certainly wrong but it's important to realise that he thinks he's doing good. Neither Bush nor Blair seem to understand that. A post on this is probably on it's way.

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