Saturday, January 14, 2012

When American "Values" Reached Their Nadir

Vanity Fair has just published a lengthy, searing piece titled "Guantánamo: An Oral History."    It ought to be read - and spread - by any American who cares about what  we still like to think of as "American values."

The introduction sets the tone:

Camp X-Ray, where the first detainees at Guantánamo were imprisoned and interrogated, is today an abandoned site. The guard towers are empty, the weeds waist high. Banana-rat droppings litter the rotting floors. Newer prisons miles away hold the detainees who remain. And “remain” is the operative word. Although Barack Obama vowed to shut the facility down, the administration’s attempts to do so have been blocked by Congress, which refuses to authorize funds to transfer detainees to prisons on the U.S. mainland.

It has been an ugly, damaging experiment. The whole point of Guantánamo was to create a regime of incarceration and interrogation—including torture—that the law could not reach: a “legal black hole,” as the English court of appeal put it. Although the 45-square-mile naval base on the southern shore of Cuba is fully subject to U.S. writ—federal environmental laws even extend to iguanas, and killing one can bring a heavy fine—the Bush administration argued from the outset that Guantánamo was outside American legal jurisdiction, and that, in essence, its personnel could treat detainees as they wished. And they did, making the name “Guantánamo” a rallying cry throughout the Islamic world.

Quickly, the piece brings us to those early days post-9/11, when "American values" were held to the fire, and unfortunately emerged scorched and tattered.  Witness this exchange between Bush-administration Dept of Justice people (including Alberto Gonzales):

January 12, 2002: A team of lawyers from the White House, the vice president’s office, the Defense Department, and the Justice Department flies to Guantánamo to observe the opening of Camp X-Ray.

Manuel Supervielle (jag lawyer) About a half an hour or 45 minutes into the flight, Mr. Haynes calls me up to the front. He just said, Hey, Manny, do you have a minute? So I went up to the very front. Mr. Haynes was standing up, kind of crouching over because the plane was small. I went over next to him, basically facing towards the back of the plane with him to my left, and Mr. Gonzales is directly in front of me, and Mr. Thompson was to his left, and then Mr. Addington, and then Mr. Taft, and behind them were other folks. John Yoo and some others. Mr. Haynes says, Hey, Manny, we understand that you’ve invited the I.C.R.C. [International Committee of the Red Cross] to Guantánamo. Would you care to explain why you did that? And they said, You need to turn it off. I said, I don’t think I can do that. They all looked at each other, and Mr. Haynes says, Well, you made the call. You call and tell them that it’s not an option, it’s not possible.

I said, If we cancel, it’s going to look bad. It’s going to look like we’re trying to hide something. At one point Mr. Gonzales said to me, he goes, Manny, by having the I.C.R.C. there, they’re going to report on everything they see. That stunned me, really. I said, Sir, first of all, the I.C.R.C. doesn’t report publicly on what they find. They report back to the detaining power. He says, How do you know that? I said, They have a 150-year history of doing that, a pretty well-established record.

The entire article oozes with this stuff.

That Mr. Obama has yet to close down Guantanamo has put a huge hole through the armor of shniy-bright virtue in which he clad himself in 2008.  Shame on him.  

But that Mr. Bush and his cohort can now live out their buffered, sweet lives, and not be daily shunned and cursed by the public they claimed to serve - or prosecuted for the war crimes that they most surely did spawn - speaks volumes about the myth that we still call "American values."

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