Obama suspends trials at and orders Guantanamo prison closed within a year / Ottawa Citizen cartoon
Cam Cardow, cartoonist for The Ottawa Citizen, has said it all, rather sadly.
The newspaper cartoonist worked a few doors down from me a few times. Often they start as photographers, something visual, everybody notices that they're always doodling, and nine years later they try their hand as editorial cartoonist. Like all visual artists, they either don't use words, don't trust words, or don't know many words -- they have little use for words as a way to express ideas or feelings.
Ottawa is the capital of Canada. The United States and Canada have the world's longest "cool" border -- a dotted line between sovereign nations on which nothing officially hostile ever happens. No bullets are ever fired, and if our military planes or helicopters should stray over their side a mile or two, they don't make a public squawk about it, no official protest, and contrariwise. Nobody masses troops along this border. Actual war operations, official hostilities, haven't happened since the War of 1812. All subsequent organized violence has involved non-state actors poorly contained or controlled by one or both of the sovereign governments.
It is understood that the USA should not meddle in domestic political matters of Canada, and contrariwise. This is not always an easy trick.
One of the very first executive orders signed by President Barack Obama was to halt / suspend all trials, tribunals, quasi-judicial, pseudo-judicial, crypto-judicial activities at the US detention facility -- prison, concentration camp -- at Guantanamo, and to close down the prison at Guantanamo within one year.
Since semi-colonial times -- the USA captured Cuba from Spain in 1898 -- the US has held a lease on a small spit of land with a Navy harbor at Guantanamo Bay in Cuba. By a 1903 treaty with Spain, the lease is perpetual. The Socialist government of Cuba disagrees, and believes the lease is an unlawful land grab at gunpoint from an imperialist superpower.
But until perpetuity ends, it's ours, and on it, after 9-11-01, we established a detention facility, a military prison, a concentration camp.
Since 7 October 2001, when the current war in Afghanistan began, 775 detainees have been brought to Guantánamo. Of these, approximately 420 have been released without charge. As of May 2008, approximately 270 detainees remain. More than a fifth are cleared for release but must nevertheless remain indefinitely because countries are reluctant to accept them.
[Did someone say Switzerland is accepting a few of these human beings? Details, please. Numbers, conditions, political controversy, gossip.]
Guantanamo and the US-run prison at Abu Ghraib near Baghdad tie as the institutions established or operated by our government which Americans came to loathe, regret, feel shame and disgust about. Abu Ghraib has been transferred to the control of the new Iraq government -- if in anything it can be considered a distinct sovereignty from the US occupying power -- but we still have Guantanamo.
A world-class Human Rights Horror Center which recognizeth not the Geneva Conventions which set standards for the civilized and humane treatment of all human beings, military or civilian. And it's as American as apple pie and Kraft Cheese Singles. I paid taxes to build and run it, and a president, and majorities in both houses of Congress, passed all the laws and granted all the authorities for torture, insult to Islam and its worshippers --
This is my America behaving, as closely as it knows how, like Nazi Germany or Stalin's Soviet Union, or Castro's Cuba, or any of the creepiest Soviet satellites during the Cold War. Guantanamo is the Barbed Wire and Machine Gun and Shackles Vision of America, and not only did our political system and leaders force us to swallow it, but these leaders have liberally prepared us to accept some morphs of Guantanamo and Abu Ghraib as institutions America will always have in its future. Get used to it. Write the check and shut up about it. Don't ask where these facilities are, it suffices us to be told that they are Beyond Our Shores.
Specifically in an attempt to keep all detainees beyond the reach of the Habeas Corpus powers of America's federal courts. It's an old dodge. One of the English king's noble sycophants built a dungeon for the king's perceived enemies on a Channel island, beyond the reach of British courts and their Habeas Corpus powers. So no judge could demand that the government bring the detainee before the judge, and inquire about the detainee's detention.
Don't Ask, We're Not Telling.
The U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights scream standards for the treatment and trial of everyone within the grasp of our government. Since 9-11, our federal leaders have chosen to suspend or ignore the most fundamentally important and necessary of these standards. They'll come back someday, or maybe they won't. Watch This Space.
But it is just possible that waterboarding, humiliation, psychiatric torment, physical abuse -- that all such practices may be significantly or severely diminished during (at least) the next four years, no matter which Devil's Island we have human beings locked up in.
And it seems almost a certainty that the prison at Guantanamo -- a miserable match for the botch job we did at Abu Ghraib -- will cease to exist or contain prisoners -- at least for three years after a year from now.
Already it's become substantially more pleasing to be an American. My sincere thanks to the new president for making the end of Guantanamo, and the end / diminishment of torture, priorities, his first signings, the first uses of his enormous state power.