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Tuesday, June 09, 2009

The Prisoners

The first terror suspect held at Gitmo was transferred to New York today. House minority leader John Boehner who's always a go to guy for some ridiculous remark brought his A-game when he gave this statement:

"This is the first step in the Democrats’ plan to import terrorists into America. Without a plan to close the prison at Guantanamo Bay, the Administration has made the decision to begin transferring these terrorists into the United States, in spite of the overwhelming opposition of the American people and serious questions from Members of Congress of both parties. There are more than 200 of the world’s most dangerous men held at the Guantanamo Bay prison. Does the Administration plan to transfer all of them into our nation in this way?"

This debate, the question of what to do with the prisoners once held at Guantanamo Bay, as impassioned and irrational, has skirted, though not addressed, a much deeper existential problem of defining America's moral core.

I think its no big deal that we bring them here. In fact, there's nowhere else I'd rather see these terrorists be taken. First off, the argument that this somehow makes America less safe is ludicrous. A few hundred years from now when history books are written America may well be remembered as the greatest imprisoning civilization in history. We've perfected it. Well, the locking away part anyway. We don't know how to "correct" people yet, as the correctional facilities names nearly farcically suggests, but we sure know how to lock them up and keep them there. These Gitmo prisoners won't be out in the general prison population and if they ever are released won't be released in America. In prison, they'll be isolated, not so much so that they can't recruit or cause problems, but probably more for their own safety, with the whole twisted corporal moral law among the imprisoned they otherwise may not last long.

I saw the outrage of those opposed to putting them in Leavenworth. Almost as if its an American privilege to be thrown in one of our most heavily guarded prisons where we put some of most infamous inmates. Here we have a prison which is surrounded by a military base, in a town full of military personnel. I can't think of a better place for them to be. They'd be studied and monitored by the soldiers who are going to fight them. If they somehow, despite the microscopic odds against it, managed to escape, they'd still have to get past thousands of men and women who are trained to fight them. Would you rather we send them to an Eastern European country or an iffy middle-eastern ally where the guards are underpaid and willing to take a bribe or maybe have anti-American sentiments? Where they'd be much closer to their leaders and bases?

And this leads me to examine the underlying dilemma. If we bring these terrorists and terror suspects here we make them real to us. They no longer are a strange and near-mythic "other" who attack then disappear who we only fight "over there." They become real people with faces, and names. It is easier to make this into a situation where they are some Foreign Bogeyman who we never have to confront. The war is over there, fought by soldiers, and seen, if at all, through the lens of a 24 hours news camera or a DOD released aerial missile shot. I am not suggesting that bringing them here will create sympathy, quite the opposite; rather it will deprive them of their mythical power. That at any time the "terrorists" could appear and kill you anytime, anywhere, is a powerful idea, and one which has been central to the political power of many politicians in the government for the past 8 years. This is why they are so opposed to this. If we see these terrorists as the scared and sorry people they are, we won't be nearly as afraid of them. But this would also force the American public, which has been able to live far more insulated than any other American public in a time of war, to face the fact that we are at war. Every generation which has been involved in a war has had to make a sacrifice on the home front, and if ours is to recognize the face of the enemy, behind the walls of a supermax prison, that's one easy sacrifice. This also seems to be, in a time of deep recession a great economic opportunity for some small town. To build a prison, take these detainees, and provide jobs for hundreds of people.

But you may say: "wait, this suggests they get some sort of rights." Yes. America has the rule of law. They're not citizens and won't get full rights, but these terrorists must see that they have not disrupted our system of law. In fact, let them see the way we do things here, the freedoms that they have made an oath to destroy, the way of life we enjoy, as they sit behind bars for the rest of their lives. I can think of no greater punishment for ideologues than for them to see that their attempted war against the American soul, has not, and will not succeed, as we take the moral high ground. Their leaders, like many of ours, don't want to make us human; they too are afraid to give a face to their enemy. They'd rather die as martyrs and be further proof to their monstrous view of us. Let's prove them wrong.

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