More from the department of “Duh”

Charlie Savage, who is one of the heroes of American journalism, tells us in the pages of the Grey Lady that, wait for it, closing Guantanamo is no longer one of the Obama Administration’s priorities. Savage, who, like a few others (Carol Rosenberg of McClatchy comes to mind,,, as do… well, my friend Andy Worthington and.,. me) has been on top of this story for years, and “the story” is not merely some backwater island prison somewhere, but an entire seachange in American attitude and acceptance of arbitrary totalitarian behavior by American governments (now of both parties), as long as that totalitarian behavior is directed at “them,” and termed “in the interest of national security and combating terrrrrrrorism.”
Currently, “them” at the federal level has meant “Muslims” (including Anglos who convert to Islam), but at the state and local levels, “them” now includes anyone of dark complexion, particularly but not exclusively of Latino origin.
Dostoevsky of course told us that a society’s civilization can be measured by its prisons; oddly enough, by the standards of some of America’s brutal, gang infested prisons where rape and homicide run rampant, Guantanamo is hardly the worst of the lot by any means. Its reputation in the Muslim world is not based on its brutality: Middle Eastern prisons (some of which we have contracted with as part of our war on terror) are notoriously nasty. No… the problem is the arbitrariness, and the absolute and total hypocrisy that we purport to be the exemplars of “due process” for ourselves (except for… well, Muslims and all) while throwing out any semblance of it for “them.” That’s actually proven to be a far more potent recruiting tool for our enemies than anything else, a fact not lost on our war machine, for whom the only thing worse than defeat would be victory, and having to dismantle.
The only real “problem” with GTMO from, say, an American penological standpoint is that the place amounts to a giant, permanent holding cell: only one man has actually been “convicted” of anything (someone named Al-Bahlul, in his case, after a trial under questionable procedures during which he stood mute; my interview with Wes Powell, one of his former attorneys, is here.) But the other 180 or so men, including my friend Candace’s client Razak Ali, haven’t been convicted of anything. While most of the men have pending (or completed) habeas corpus petitions, the Government can continue their detention on far less demanding showings of “guilt” than in criminal proceedings, but most troublingly, there are a number of men who have won their habeas cases and had their petitions granted, but are nonetheless still imprisoned.
Anyway… regular readers know all this. I’m hoping to make a somewhat different point than one I’ve made umpteen times on GTMO’s arbitrariness, its gratuitous and self-defeating nastiness and all that. It’s a point I’d like to make about my college classmate the President, inspired by an e-mail from another of his and my classmates, who old time readers will recognize as “the Unseen Editor” from way back when this blog was constructed on Microsoft Frontpage, hand entered by UE based on e-mails from me. Anyway, UE’s point is that Obama’s backpedaling on “closing GTMO”, admittedly one of his most forceful campaign promises, may be an act of “necessary” preserving or allocating of “political capital.”
And I guess that’s where I was going. I was going to say, preserve political capital for what? Charle Savage’s article quotes some Congressional sources in noting that the Administration has been remarkably passive in the face of Congressional opposition on these issues– passivity not present on seemingly more mundane issues that were not fundamental campaign promises, like trying to cut certain unwanted fighter planes from the military budget. In other words: this is not like trying to impose full-paid socialized medicine and child-care and a 30-hour work week, if only those damned Republicans weren’t so obstreporous… this is a quite conscious choice by the Administration to not try very hard to “close GTMO.” Now don’t get me wrong: moving the problem from Cuba to Illinois would not solve anything, unless the intent were clearly to empty the place lest “they” languish on our sacred and holy shores… a stateside endless and lawless holding cell would hardly be an improvement.
But the intent, I suppose, was to use the pressure of that to get yet more men out, and as such, I can at least see the point to it.
But once again: the problem of “Guantanamo” has never been the location; it’s been the ethos– that the United States even can operate something “beyond law.” That, like those miserable tin-pot dictatorships we look down on, we seem to have an unwritten “suspend the Constitution” clause that we can invoke whenever some terrorist act (that I saw live, btw) gets broadcast on t.v. enough times.
And the real problem is that after eight long dark years of Bush and Cheney, fools like me, and I suspect milions of others, actually believed Barack’s bullsh*t… that, as an alleged teacher of Constitutional Law, he would be faithful to it. Apparently, it’s more important that he “preserve his political capital.” I know I’ll preserve my own, and the President and his party can rest assured that I will be preserving my political capital, including what I contributed to the last two election cycles, monetary contributions, volunteer work and my vote… sorry, but like you, I have more important priorities for which I have to “preserve my capital.” (Particularly when we have been shown in the most graphic terms imaginable that on what counts… the structure of a government based on law rather than brutal expedience… there is no difference whatsoever between the two parties.) So… just letting you know. You’all might want to save your efforts trying to get me to contribute in any way. I’ll be using my “capital” for my own benefit, thanks, and for those projects that might, you know, have a payback. Which clearly does not include the President or his party.
That’s the point I was trying to make.