Thursday, December 10, 2009

What have we become?

The ongoing debate about the detainees at Guantanamo has become a true litmus test of the value of humanity. It has become the very definition of what a human life means in America. Recently on CNN I was once again watching the debate between the talking heads about whether or not these detainees should be brought to American soil, and more importantly, whether they should be tried as American citizens would be tried.

The dangers of this kind of debate are obvious. First of all, most of the detainees at Guantanamo have yet to be charged with any crime whatsoever. Most of the “crimes” of the “enemy combatants” as they are referred to are simply crimes of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, of being of the wrong race or religious background. It takes no major amount of research to determine that these human beings (I will continue to use that term to drive the point home) were picked up under dubious conditions at best. Bounty hunters were paid thousands of dollars to turn in these human beings in the “War on Terror” (which incidentally is a term that I quite despise…as that kind of war will never end and can continue to be used to justify American atrocities). The money paid to these bounty hunters amounts to a year’s wages for most of them. Even in our current economic situation in America, which has relatively low unemployment compared to the countries where these “bounty hunters” were hired, I would imagine that many financially strapped citizens would turn in their neighbor, relative or friend let alone a stranger for a year’s salary. It is a very simple almost Darwinian concept that doesn’t require much reasoning ability to grasp…that of the survival of the fittest. Better you than me if you will…especially when money is involved. Since these human beings were picked up on foreign soil, they were not accorded the “Miranda rights” being read or applied to them. They were simply apprehended…most times with no explanation given to them for their crimes, and sent to secret locations, and also to the more well known locations of Bagram, Kandahar and Guantanamo. Former “enemy combatants” such as Murat Kurnaz and Moazzam Begg have written excellent exposes of “American justice” in these hell holes. Being held for years on end without being charged for a crime or given an explanation as to the reason for the detention is considered (in theory but not practice) a basic violation of human rights in America. This is where the substance of the argument begins. If we consider our country to be the greatest bastion of freedom and love of humanity, then how can we not accord EVERY human being the same rights as any of our citizens no matter what the extent of the crime? The American justice system was apparently good enough to try Timothy McVeigh, who should also be considered an enemy in the “War on Terror” but wasn’t because he was an American citizen, so it should be good enough to try those of foreign origin as well.

The current system set up to try the human beings at Guantanamo and other locations is a military tribunal that is a joke and a parody of a justice system. These fellow human beings are tried by the very same military power structure that picked them up in the first place. They are not given the right to review the case against them before they enter the tribunal, and they are not given the right to choose their “attorney” who ends up being a member of the military as well. So, the odds of a fair trial happening are quite absurd. It is akin to everything that we consider wrong about justice systems in foreign countries, where the victim is already convicted and sentenced before even entering the court room.

The debate about the human beings at Guantanamo and other military bases around the world being in those locations vs. U.S. prisons doesn’t bother me as much as the debate about how and equally as important WHEN they will be tried or for that matter even CHARGED with a crime. It doesn’t matter if they’re brought and held on American soil vs. Guantanamo if they are still in a 6 by 8 foot cell. A cell is a cell no matter where you are. What’s important is that we look at these suspects as HUMAN BEINGS. Human beings who deserve the same rights as Americans. We are no better than anyone else as much as our arrogant, self-righteous, delusional attitude would have us believe. It is so engrained in our way of thinking that I would imagine most Americans don’t even give a second thought to the idea that Guantanamo detainees should not be tried as American citizens…as human beings. Even being tried in an American court is far from guaranteeing a fair trial, but it will supposedly be more fair than a trial in a closed, secret military tribunal where the verdict and punishment are already decided before the defendant enters the room, and it WILL be the same as accorded to an American citizen whose life is worth no more or no less than any other, even a prisoner in the “War on Terror”. That is the main principle I'm trying to articulate here. All human beings should be treated as equals in America...even though the system is broken and the idea of equality is still to be determined in this country. However, with the Guantanamo debate and its pitfalls, we are heading down a dangerous path leading to fascism along with an idea of racial, idealistic, religious and moral superiority that will only repress others and continue to make the U.S. the worst enemy in the “War on Terror” if we decide to not try every human being as an equal no matter how heinous the crime or where they come from.