Friday, May 3, 2013

Open Letter to Rep. Doug LaMalfa on Guantanamo Bay

Dear Congressman LaMalfa,

As you are undoubtedly aware, conditions at the United States’ prison at Guantanamo Bay have been deteriorating precipitately in recent weeks.  A large number of detainees, many of them who have been held without charge for years—some for over a decade—have undertaken a hunger strike.  They are being force-fed, and shots have been fired at the prison.

This disintegration of order at the prison is probably inevitable at an institution based on such a shaky legal and demonstrably immoral basis: forced disappearance and extraordinary rendition; torture and detention without trial.  Our President made a commendable if perhaps ill-planned effort to close the base shortly after his election in 2008, but was stymied by members of Congress and by his own inconsistency and hypocrisy.

In the wake of condemnation by a UN Human Rights body, President Obama described Guantanamo as “not something that’s in the best interest of the American people...it’s not sustainable”.  I can only hope that his renewed effort to close the prison will have greater success than before.

One key reason why his earlier effort stalled had to do with opposition from national security chicken hawks, largely in the Republican Party but counting more than a few Democrats amongst their number, who attacked the President for being “soft on terror” and sought to persuade the public that closing Guantanamo would put our country in greater danger.

On the basis of the character of the facility at Guantanamo and current events, your party’s ill-judged obstinacy (a charge that could equally apply to many NIMBYs in the Democratic Party) is in danger of turning our country’s behaviour and character into a byword for injustice and barbarism.

Moreover, the refusal to subject these and other people to our legal system undermines faith in that system and suggests that you and your colleagues believe that our institutions—good enough to deal with domestic criminals who have committed crimes as bad as if not worse than some of those alleged against people held at Guantanamo—are inadequate to the task of balancing justice and public safety.

In supporting the maintenance of the prison at Guantanamo, which for many people in the United States and around the world represents a litany of abuses meted out by our national security state, and some of the most serious underlying and unaddressed flaws of our approach to international relations and public safety, our representatives are giving comfort and recruiting propaganda to those who would attack our country.

The greatest long-term threat to our country does not take the form of any individual “terrorist” organisation or the ambitions of individuals or groups to attack the United States.  It is, rather, our own hubristic policies—driven by the internal logic of a profiteering and criminalistic military-industrial complex—and our government’s adoption of the tools of terror, which are in danger of committing us to a war without either end or purpose. 

A recent poll suggested that three quarters of Americans believe that “acts of terrorism will be a part of life in the future”.  That is tragic on so many levels.  It is deplorable that the public has come to believe that living a fearful, war-torn life is necessary and unavoidable.  It is a testament to the stunted imaginations of our policymakers that meeting terror with war and more terror is the best solution they can think of to a set of political and economic problems in the world. 

I urge you to take this opportunity to demonstrate leadership by working with your colleagues on both sides of the aisle to change the terms of the debate about our national security, to recommit our government to respect for our justice system and for human rights, and to support the President’s efforts to close Guantanamo Bay—one of the most egregious symbols of our mismanaged relations with not only our conscience but with global civil society.

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