The Incredible Contrasts of Gitmo

Cross-posted at The Huffington Post. I am struck by the contrasts. The flight attendant said as soon as we landed, “Welcome to Guantanamo Bay. We hope you enjoyed your flight.” Would she have said the same had we landed on Alcatraz (at least one big enough to land on)? I don’t know that welcome is what one should feel at GTMO. There is the fat iguana meandering blithely in front of a tent of latrines and showers, surrounded by tarmac and rolls of barbed wire. There are the languid Caribbean breezes on an island country that is shunned by our own government. These are my first moments at Guantanamo where I have landed to observe the hearing for Omar Khadr. He is the Canadian kid plucked out of Afghanistan at the age of 15 and has been held here for a third of his life. He is now 23. He is accused of throwing a grenade that killed an American soldier, and training at an Al Qaeda camp. Khadr denies that he did. Khadr’s lawyers say that any incriminating statements were extracted through torture. The government denies the assertion. The back and forth this week may determine what evidence is admitted at his trial that is set to begin in July, unless the defendant and government come to an agreement, which is allegedly in the works. The contrasts strike me in politics as well. Representative McKeon this week said he plans to introduce a series of amendments to the House Defense Appropriations Bill, one of which would force all trials of 9/11 defendants into military commissions. Why would anyone do that other than to delay justice? The federal civilian courts have tried more than 400 terrorism cases since 9/11; the military commissions have tried only three. The federal civilian courts follow a Constitution that has stood us in good stead for more than 200 years; the military tribunals just received yet another set of rules last week, rules which will face years of constitutional challenges to sort out. Senator Lindsey Graham argues that suspected terrorists do not deserve the same rights as someone who robbed a 7/11, rights like due process. Yet, Col. Lawrence Wilkerson, chief of staff to former Secretary of State Colin Powell, said recently that President Bush, Vice President Cheney, and Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld knew that the vast majority of detainees at Guantanamo were innocent. Senator Graham, doesn’t due process help us sort out the good from the bad? Neither Guantanamo nor military commissions have delivered justice that is swift or sure. I look forward to the hearing. I take seriously the allegations of wrongdoing, just as I take seriously our obligations as a country to live by our values and provide a fair, transparent and just adjudication. I am sure the contrasts will continue to strike me, as I do jumping jacks to stay fit while downing the local fried KFC offered to visiting observers.


Published on May 3, 2010


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