Sunday, May 29, 2005

Spinning the phony war

I’ve been reading the news this morning, and I have a very real question about our war on terrorism: who, exactly, is the enemy? We keep hearing that this is “a different kind of war.” General Richard Meyers, the chairman of the joint chiefs, said it yesterday to justify our treatment of detainees at Guantanamo Bay. But exactly what kind of war is it? Just who are we fighting, exactly? This is a very important question for a number of reasons. We have justified ignoring the Geneva convention, imprisoning men indefinitely, men who have never committed a crime, because of the unusual nature of this war (which, in the history of the world, isn’t really all that unusual). The question “who are we fighting is important because of the spin our administration keeps putting on this war. We are permitted by law and custom to detain enemy combatants captured on the field until the end of the war. But when is the end of the war? The war in Afghanistan, where most of these people were captured, is long since over. When do they get released? When the “war on terrorism” is over? That is an impossibility. Terrorism has been around since at least the first century AD. That position would mean that we intend to hold these people for life—without trial, without conviction. Can a state of war exist between a nation and a tactic? Between a nation and an activity? Do we just get to hold these guys forever? An Amnesty International report called Gitmo a modern Gulag last week. Meyers was infuriated, and called this report “irresponsible.” Amazing how we love to hold Amnesty International up as a shining beacon of human rights when they criticize our enemies, but they are irresponsible when they turn their attention to our own activities. Is it a Gulag? Or are we, as the Pentagon and the Administration insist, treating them “as humanely as possible?” Certainly we are losing the public relations battle, which is why the Joint Chiefs Chairman has to get up at a press conference and defend our actions. In the Muslim world people are protesting, even killing each other, over our reported mishandling of the Quran (which, although we’ve denied the toilet flushing, we have admitted to). All over the world we are seen as arrogant bullies, criminals, fascists. So we say things like “if we let these people go they’d slit our throats,” and pretend that this justifies keeping them locked up. But in what other situation are we allowed, morally or legally, to lock people up because of something they *might* do? The only thing I can think of is when we have people committed for dangerous mental illness, but that is not what we are alleging here.

Most Americans don’t seem to care. An AOL poll on the subject (hardly scientific, I know) showed that more then 60% of respondents approved of how Gitmo detainees (we can’t actually call them “prisoners”) are being treated. But around the world nobody seems to buy our arguments. We have for years claimed some kind of moral authority over people because of our democratic institutions, but throughout the world we are now seen as the world’s biggest hypocrites. And this isn’t just bad press. It is also because our values are seen as *immoral* throughout much of the world--r at least, the values of this administration and of this president. In addition to this, we have blithely ignored international law, abandoned treaties, and proclaimed our sovereignty inviolate while glibly violating the sovereignty of other nations (most notably Iraq). As a result we have lost whatever moral authority we had to be “leaders of the free world,” and all we have had to fall back upon is out military might. That makes us bullies, plain and simple.


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