A collaborative blog for Current Affairs and Policy Debate

‘Guantanamo: What’s the real issue?’ A Layman’s Perspective

In Foreign Affairs on August 27, 2009 at 11:59 pm

When most people hear the words Guantanamo Bay there tends to be an accompanying groan and images of jump-suited men who appear to be forcibly re-enacting the “Saw” films; and after 7 years of nothing but horror stories who can blame us? Since the opening of the ‘detainment facility’ in 2002 it seems to have been a steady parade of mistakes, atrocities and basic human rights violations with the odd high point such as the recent release of Mohammed Jawad, one of the youngest former inmates of Guantanamo aged just 12 at the time of his incarceration. Forgive my ‘Politics For Dummies’ approach but…surely doing things that have the public hating you is NOT exactly great for your next round of elections? Yes, we all know that the media has a habit of making mountains out of molehills but some things are just too big to ignore. As nothing more than a layman, your run-of-the-mill citizen who barely knows (or cares) who the leaders for each party are beyond the fact that we are meant to pick one of them at some point, I have to admit that I don’t always understand precisely what an individual has done and its political implications, but I do know that in pretty much every religion and every human rights law there is something that indirectly says ‘don’t beat, starve and torture defenceless human beings and post photos of it on the internet’…or something similar, anyway.

In pretty much every religion and every human rights law there is something that indirectly says ‘don’t beat, starve and torture defenceless human beings’

Okay, so this Muslim man has blown up a convoy of soldiers with an IED and is now rotting away happily in Guantanamo. Justice is served, right? Well, if we were to flip it a moment…this American convoy of soldiers just used thousand-dollar custom made weapons to destroy the Muslim man’s livelihood and are slowly blowing up parts of his country. They get medals and a round of beer back at base. Wait…so both parties are defending their countries and their families etc. etc…so why does one get torture and another a cold ‘un? Apparently they really weren’t kidding when they called it the U.S Constitution, anybody not part of the U.S or its Allies is a viable scapegoat if we are to believe the stories. One has to admit, though, that if you were to capture the man who blew your family and friends up and erased part of your city’s cultural heritage you wouldn’t be in the mood to take them to the pub and would be perfectly valid in your seeking of retribution but…what counts as penance? Where is the line drawn between hard time and downright cruelty hidden behind the ever-present veil of ‘he blew something up’? As human beings we are all entitled to basic rights, but who keeps it all equal when it’s only a certain close-knit group who set the rules and have the opportunity to legalise such treatment?

Waterboarding is something I’m sure most people who follow the news have heard of, but just in case: imagine drowning somebody but stopping just before the point of no return, and then doing it again and again until you get the answer you want to hear. You don’t know if it’s true or if the person just really wants you to stop drowning them, but it’s on tape so it’s good enough for you and your long-suffering publicist. According a recent article on the BBC (July 13th ’09) “claims have emerged that a key al-Qaeda suspect was waterboarded before the Bush government lawyers issued written authorisation to do so.” This, coupled with the recent investigation into the destruction of CIA interrogation tapes and the accusation that international laws have been broken, suggests that Guantanamo may well be all that the hype implies. The funny thing here though is that all this suggests that at the word of some presidential lawyers a world-wide set of ideals and a strict set of international laws can be simply…put to one side whilst the individual that these laws were set up to protect is ruthlessly tortured in the pursuit of information that, I hate to break it to you, doesn’t un-demolish the Twin Towers or get anybody any closer to finding one person in a gigantic expanse of land.

Perhaps the issue no longer lies with the institutions such as Guantanamo but rather the individuals who are given the keys to the power that corrupts, absolutely? Either way, Obama may have given a date of execution for Guantanamo but it doesn’t change the things that the inmates suffered or the breaches in a law that the guards of that very prison are sworn to uphold, nor the fact that whilst one may soon be closed the spirit lives on in institutions such as Bagram, Afghanistan.

BBC Waterboarding Article

  1. I think everyone here agrees that the things that happened at Guantanamo were horrendous, and we all pray that such a thing would never happen again. Let’s hope Bagram does not descend to that level, and human rights are protected.

    I agree much with what you’re saying – the irony of American troops, bringers of ‘freedom’ and ‘peace’ should be torturers and prison guards is notable. Nor is the fight in the right place – its clear that to fight Al Queda and terrorism, resources should be focused on education and stopping young people being indoctrinated by extremists.

    However, I’m not sure what the final point you were trying to make was? If I’m clarifying your conclusion (forgive me if I’m wrong), the bottom line is this: No-one should have the power to authorise techniques such as water-boarding that go against international law.

    If so (and I know I’m arguing on a presumption of what you’re saying), I can’t completely agree. I definitely think international law mostly needs to be respected, however, I don’t think its applicable in all cases. For example, I believe military intervention can be and is necessary in certain situations – I honestly think the Iraq invasion was the right course of action, abeit for the wrong reasons. If (for the sake of argument), the Iraq invasion was done purely to get rid of Saddam Hussein (not oil or fake WMDs), and the UN vetoed military action, military action would still be justified.

    In the same way, in extraordinary circumstances, sometimes dubious methods like water-boarding may need to be used (questions of effectiveness aside). I take on-board your point that such power can corrupt. Nor can I give you exact circumstances of when such methods should be used. However, ruling it out altogether is too arbitrary.

    • Perhaps ruling it out is too arbitrary, because of certain hypothetical circumstances, but in any case what is justified is a constant vigilance, in situations such as the one the Allies are in now, of the public in scrutinising the powers and fighting against all such abuses, no matter whether they occur within Guantanamo, Bagram or any other place under our control.

      For there may be a hypothetical situation where such constant abuses of common morality are no longer condemnable, but one thing I am sure of is that we haven’t met it yet.

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