Monday, June 12, 2006

Guantanamo: Kafkaesque, in a Good Way

This week three prisoners at the Guantanamo prison camp committed suicide by hanging themselves in their cells using bed sheets. "They have no regard for life, either ours or their own," said the commander of the base, Rear Admiral Harry Harris about men who killed themselves. It's easy to understand the frustration of Admiral Harris, who has cared for these prisoners for years only to be repaid with this kind of planned and coordinated attack. Indeed, American guards have already saved 23 inmates from 41 suicide attempts and force fed hundreds of inmates who have gone on hunger strikes while these terrorists continue to wage homicidal campaigns against themselves. One of the men was even set to be released, although no one had gotten around to telling him yet. If there is a better illustration of the different values our two cultures place on life, I don't know what is.

Critics claim that the inmates are in a state of despair and have a sense of hopelessness because officials continue to resist efforts to charge the prisoners and give them trials or release them. Already, nearly half of these dangerous men (and several children) have been released after spending years at the camp, meaning that the 460 who are left must really be bad. Many of these men have not been released for humanitarian reasons because of a very sincere concern that they will be torured or killed if they are repatriated to governments that are not quite as civilized as our own. Senator Arlen Specter has accused the Bush Administration of "stonewalling" him on the fate of these prisoners and claims that the charges against them are based on "the flimsiest sort of hearsay." He has vowed to fight what he perceives to be this injustice by scheduling hearings that will be postponed indefinitely and writing very frank letters. Unfortunately, these men and their lawyers are not permitted to see the evidence against them because it is Top Secret, which has led Amnesty International to call the Guantanamo prison camp "Kafkaesque." But I think Guantanamo is Kafkaesque in a good way. By not forcing the detainees to contend with the stress of due process, they are being spared the negative outcome of a trial, since it would almost certainly end in a guilty verdict, although they seem to want to carry out the inevitable sentence prematurely.

Although the media has generally been good about not giving these detainees undeserved attention, the failure to prevent this incident, which brings the prison's survival rate from 100% down to a still commendable 99%, has regrettably played right into the terrorists' hands. State Department spokesperson Colleen Graffey called these suicides "a good PR move" and "a publicity stunt," by which I think she means these detainees are sort of like David Blaine, although more successful ultimately in achieving the intended outcome.

Admiral Harris contends ominously that the suicides are in fact an act of war against the United States. "I believe this was not an act of desperation, but rather an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us," Harris said. Asymmetrical warfare is a tactic used by a weaker enemy to surprise and disorient his opponent. In order to restore symmetry to the battle, our side will have to engage in increasingly self-destructive tactics of our own and abandon certain principles and ethical values that hold us back and hand our opponents weak points they can exploit to strike back at us, a strategy we are already using with some success in Iraq.

Coincidentally, Harris predicted that someone would die at Guantanamo in an interview last month and speculated on the aftermath. "We're going to be subjected to a lot of questions, and rightfully so. Legitimate questions. Why did this person die? Did you have something to do with it? Was it of natural causes? And I believe, if it is of natural causes, we're still going to be criticized," Harris said. Unfortunately, these kinds of attacks by the press and other members of the left on U.S. credibility will just turn into a self-fulfilling prophecy as Peter Ingemi explained: "The real danger is that we who support the war will reach the point that we say 'we might as well be taken as wolves then as sheep.' At that point the left can celebrate that they have made our military and those who support it the people they claim we are. Once that happens however any compunction about respecting them will be gone, and remember one side is armed and one is not." In other words, the more the press delves into stories like Haditha, Abu Ghraib and the conditions at Guantanamo, the more likely it is that regrettable incidents will occur. If people are just going to believe the worst mo matter what we do, why should we bother to behave honorably? On the bright side, this will free up our side from certain restraints that limit our ability to fight back.

It seems that any effort we make to appease critics of Guantanamo have only backfired anyway. Some of the men who were released have begun to wage a PR campaign against the United States, another insidious kind of asymmetric warfare. One of the men we released is now claiming that he was tortured at the prison, which, of course, the Bush Administration has repeatedly said in no uncertain terms that we don't do, although if we wanted to torture, we wouldn't be subject to the laws of the Geneva Convention (a treaty some other administration signed anyway) because these detainees aren't lawful combatants, so theoretically we could if we wanted to, but we don't because it is against our principles except in certain circumstances. In the end, however, we may discover that the only way to save the principles make our country great will be to sacrifice them.

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11 comments:

Jacques Cuze said...

w00t!

Ingrid said...

Jon, have you not joined the bloggers against torture campaign? Good piece. (the pr comment was unbelievable..that woman is the head of 'diplomacy'??) The more I read about the torture issue, from Jane Mayer's 'the memo' to other accounts docstrangelov etc.. I am in disbelief..no, I do believe...no I...my head hurts
Ingrid (the kiddies are in bed and I should go too..can't think intelligently at this point..I'll give you the link to the online campaign as you might see some other worthwhile mentionings...

randomopinion said...

What you're commenting is perfectly illustrated by the "ticking-bomb" fallacy when used in relation to torture and terrorists. Hey, we don't want to use torture, but since these guys don't abide by any rules, we're forced to do it. This reasoning however doesn't stand a serious analysis, not from the moral, legal nor practical points of view, as Michael Kinsley brilliantly exposed here: http://www.slate.com/id/2132195/

Adam said...

If the guy was going to be released, he obviously wasn't a vicious murderer. He killed himself because he'd rather die than stay in Gitmo, not because he wanted to spite the guards.

And how is this a referendum on the "differences between our cultures" when the US has a higher suicide rate than Muslim countries?

Spin, spin, spin.

elendil said...

Boy, that's some subtle work.

the olive ream said...

amazing satire!

beervolcano said...

http://www.spittleandink.com/simpleblog/default.asp?view=plink&id=474

Us vs. Them

elendil said...

Grrr. I have a serious issue with that S+I link. While I have no affection for the Administration on the whole Zarqawi thing, particularly the irresponsible way in which they exaggerated his role in the conflict, I don't think there's any comparison between what happened to Berg and Zarqawi. To imply otherwise is just grotesque.

g1lgam3sh said...

"Admiral Harris contends ominously that the suicides are in fact an act of war against the United States. "I believe this was not an act of desperation, but rather an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us," Harris said. Asymmetrical warfare is a tactic used by a weaker enemy to surprise and disorient his opponent. In order to restore symmetry to the battle, our side will have to engage in increasingly self-destructive tactics of our own and abandon certain principles and ethical values that hold us back and hand our opponents weak points they can exploit to strike back at us, a strategy we are already using with some success in Iraq."

Just... awesome; Sir/Madam I rarely submit to Envy... nevertheless.

A palpable hit as always

BenMerc said...

Berg was a war profiteer looking for monetary gain and adventure, Zarqawi was a political opportunist using the same war to gain what was important to him, namely power …both were men involved in something bigger then themselves and brutally killed in the theatre they had chose to be apart of…Where are the “grotesque” differences?

Doodle Bean said...

Exactly!

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