Tuesday, June 14, 2005

Eyes (still) wide shut, part I: Cheney defends Gitmo

Amid calls for the closure of the U.S. detention facility at Guantanamo Bay, Vice President Cheney has taken a public stance in its defence. Again, no surprise whatsoever. The Bush Administration rarely backs down and never admits defeat (or wrong-doing of any kind), and Cheney is no Powell.

Personally, I'm not sure what to make of this issue. On the one hand, it would make some sense to close down a facility that has come, rightly or wrongly, to symbolize everything that's wrong with U.S. efforts in the so-called war on terror. And, certainly, the U.S. needs to consider how it is perceived both in the international community in general and throughout the Muslim world in particular, not just what may or may not have gone on there, which continues to remain somewhat blurry.

There are, of course, head-up-the-ass idiots like Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), who claims that it's a "myth" that any detainees were tortured there, but more reasoned opinion generally acknowledges that some were. Amnesty International's 2005 report on the U.S., much of which has been lost in the debate over one AI official's use of the word "gulag," is clear, and I, for one, tend to believe that extreme interrogation techniques bordering on torture and likely even qualifying as torture have been used. I've written on this matter here and here -- and on "Korangate," the mistreatment of the Koran, here.

On the other hand, Gitmo would have to be replaced by some other detention facility, and one wonders if the problem simply wouldn't be transferred along with the prisoners. Or does this not matter? Perhaps it's now just a matter of resolving a serious public relations fiasco. As of now, just one prominent Republican, Senator Mel Martinez, has suggested that Gitmo be closed. But other big-time Republicans, including Senator Chuck Hagel of Nebraska, are clearly worried about the impact of allegations of torture and abuse on America's already damaged reputation around the world.

In the end, Jimmy Carter seems to have found the appropriate middle ground here. While denouncing the "absurd" claim that Gitmo is "the gulag of our time," he has admitted that "[t]he U.S. continues to suffer terrible embarrassment and a blow to our reputation... because of reports concerning abuses of prisoners in Iraq, Afghanistan and Guantanamo".

No, I don't know where Gitmo's prisoners would go, and the issue of torture, abuse, and general mistreatment won't go away just with a change of venue. But closing down Gitmo would be a good start. If nothing else, it would show that the U.S. cares about its reputation, about the very serious allegations that have come to light, and about winning the "soft" war for the hearts and minds of the Muslim world.

But don't count on it. Not when Cheney shows once again that he just doesn't get it.

(For part II, see here.)

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