Choosing Between Our Safety and Ideals
During his inauguration, Barack Obama defiantly rejected the notion that America must choose between its safety and its ideals. However, immediately following the signing of an executive order to close Guantanamo Bay within the year, the media began a campaign to choose between those non-exclusive essentials. They depicted the closing of Gitmo as an epic struggle between our safety and our ideals, the very battle Obama labeled false. The negated variable in this debate appears to be proportionality. If there is a conflict between our safety and our ideals, the weight of morality surely favors the side of our Constitution and human rights legislation. Additionally, the media suggests that every Gitmo prisoner is guilty, and if released, will surely scamper off to do terroristy things.
In today’s New York Times, a front page story entitled Freed by U.S., Saudi Becomes a Qaeda Chief portrays the possibility of a released Guantanmo prisoners returning to the battlefield as an inevitability rather than a minimal risk. If, for every one hundred innocent men released from the detention island, one returns to fight with the enemy, is this really an epic battle between our safety and our ideals? The mainstream press never considers the danger that imprisoning innocents in fact creates new terrorists out of men that would have otherwise gladly lived out their days as farmers, or politicians, or police officers in Iraq’s rebuilding society.
The real risk exists in keeping a terrorist factory like Guantanamo open. There is no way to legally or morally convict prisoners using evidence gained through “coercion” i.e. torture. Therefore, America would either have to illegally convict men with evidence gained through torture, or detain possibly innocent men indefinitely, which also violates international law and a basic pillar of our own Constitution.
It’s also essential that we examine the concept of “risk” and “safety.” America can never be 100% safe — ever. No matter how many phones we tap, no matter how many “bad guys” we torture, we can’t secure our boarders everywhere. There will always be the remote possibility that one looney will slip through the cracks and throw anthrax in the faces of schoolchildren. We must choose between if we value our freedom more, or some elusive concept of security. Personally, I would rather build bridges with our international brothers and sisters than burn a million bridges by locking up young men based on shoddy rumors. Making friends is a pretty good way to secure our future. Bombing villages and indefinitely detaining 15-year-old farmer boys is a good way to make a lot of enemies that may grow up and try to destroy the country that robbed them of their freedom and dignity.
As I write this, I just popped over to the maddeningly articulate Glenn Greenwald’s site, and see he has posted yet another beautifully polished summation of the same article. Glenn describes this assertion that every released Gitmo prisoner will become a Lex Luthor-like master villain as a fantasy. The fear-mongering hypotheticals do appear to be largely speculative, and numbers of these released super villians fluctuate greatly depending on who you ask.
America has the ability to gather intelligence and convict terrorists in a court of law. America has done this for hundreds of years, so there’s no need for a sudden exception to the rule, even when Condoleezza Rice tries to scare the crap out of us with talk about mushroom clouds. The Executive branch will always tried to expand its power, and it’s up to the Congress to tell them to back off, and that our system of justice works just fine with the tools of Habeas Corpus and public courts. Otherwise, we get a lawless mess like Guantanamo, which will act as a catalyst for future conflict, domestic and abroad.
Blowback with a capital “B.”