On this Independence Day when we celebrate the stirring words of our forefathers about unalienable rights and Life, Liberty, and Pursuit of happiness, I pick up the paper and read about the ever increasing numbers of hunger strikers at the prison we operate at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. U.S. military officials say that 106 of the 166 accused terrorists left at Guantanamo are on hunger strike, with up to 45 being force fed. That means having tubes stuffed down their throats every day to ingest a can of special protein food. One detainee recently committed suicide by taking a cocktail of drugs he had hoarded.
This is not America. In the Declaration of Independence we honor today, is the list of grievances the colonists had against the British, one of them is this:
“For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury.”
I’m not a bleeding heart sympathetic to people who consciously, with malice aforethought, devised ways to kill innocent Americans. No, I’m not terribly sympathetic toward Khalid Sheik Mohamed and his ilk.
But I think Guantanamo is a betrayal of American values, and a mass expression of collective U.S. cowardice.
We’re afraid of our own justice system. We don’t trust it even though, as President Obama pointed out in his May speech at the National Defense University, that Richard Reid, the shoe bomber, Faisal Shahzad, who put a car bomb in Times Square, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab, who tried to blow up an airplane over Detroit, and the plotters behind the 1993 bombing of the World Trade Center all were convicted in civilian courts and are securely behind bars.
We trust our justice system to put on trial the Boston Marathon bomber, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. We trust our justice system to put on trial James Holmes, the Colorado theater shooter, and Gabrielle Giffords’s shooter, Jared Loughner. But we don’t trust our own justice system to try Khalid Sheikh Mohamed even though the case against him, even without any of the CIA water boarding-evidence, Attorney General Eric Holder and senior Justice Department attorneys have said is the strongest they have ever read.
Are we so afraid of terrorists that we make them into superhuman monsters who can’t even be let onto American soil to stand trial? Some have been behind bars for 12 years, with no trial, and no prospect of one. We managed, at Nuremberg, to try, convict, and hang Nazi leaders within 18 months of the end of World War II.
These rag tag bunch of terrorists are worse, more frightening, more heinous, than the Nazis? I don’t think so.
Right now today we have murderers, rapists, robbers walking free among us. Local police, and the FBI, do not solve every crime. That means such monsters are free every day. We tolerate that because we are willing to pay some price to sometimes let the guilty go free to protect our collective civil liberties, our protection against unwarranted search and seizure, self-incrimination, and imprisonment without due process. But in the name of fighting terrorism we are allowing the most unprecedented search of personal information by the National Security Agency without much check and balance.
For all their criminality and determination to murder Americans, these prisoners at Guantanamo are human beings. This nation was formed with the view that unalienable rights belong to all.
Do we not think that a jury in New York City, so affected by 9/11, would not convict Khalid Sheikh Mohamed? Really, is that what we think? Do we have so little faith in our fellow Americans to see the truth?
These Guantanamo prisoners, the couple of dozen who are probably guilty of the worse crimes, plus the 100 or so others who are minor players, daily wake up with no prospect of certainty. They could be there for the rest of their lives, but no legal process has determined that. They are in limbo, an American purgatory with no time limit. You would despair too. You would starve yourself, you would take pills, you would do anything to get noticed, to get some resolution, some official judgment whether it is death, life behind bars, or freedom. But this American purgatory amounts to a new round of state-sanctioned torture, cruel and unusual, and now continued over two presidencies, and several congresses.
As President Obama said in May about Guantanamo, “Is this who we are? Is that something our Founders foresaw? Is that the America we want to leave our children? Our sense of justice is stronger than that.”
This is not America, it is some Guantanamo Gulag, unworthy of us, and in contradiction to the values we supposedly hold so dear.