Curtain Raiser

Shipping Problems Away, Colltalers

It’s one of the most surprising developments of an issue that’s been a source of contention and grief for the Obama administration: six Guantanamo Bay detainees are being sent to Uruguay, as part of an agreement with President José Mujica.
The move, a step towards closing the infamous prison, comes with its own set of hard-to-explain rationales. But it’s taken a small South American country to actually add a merciful note to a sore wound that has made the U.S. look terrible before the world.
For President Obama, who as a candidate had vowed to close the prison where alleged enemy combatants have languished for years without formal accusation, picking six out of the current 136 inmates is hardly a show of resolve for mending this wound.
Granted, to his defense, all attempts at bringing the accused to U.S. soil and judge them in the court of law, both civil and/or military, have been fiercely opposed by a spineless Congress, and a Republican party bent down on denying support to any of the president’s initiatives. Then again, he does share responsibility for at least having being so ineffective rallying his own party.
Also, shipping war prisoners, if that’s what they are, to other countries, under some kind of little understood diplomatic accord, does not exempt the U.S. from their ultimate fate. Or from coming to terms with the constitutional breach it allowed to last for over a decade, of having people detained with no prospect of due legal course or resolution of their situation one way or another.
Finally, what the ill-advised denial of due process for the accused of terrorism, and worse, force-feeding them against their will, may do is to guarantee bloody retaliations by those on the other side, besides compromising any outlook for peace. We’ve already seen the nefarious response to such practice in the increasingly gory, on-camera executions of journalists, citizens, and relief workers.
For President Mujica, the motivation for what may become one of the final acts of his term, couldn’t be clearer: himself a tortured prisoner of the military dictatorship of Uruguay in the 1970s and 80s, he said that it was a hospitality gesture to ‘human beings who have suffered a terrible kidnapping in Guantanamo Bay.’
One word about the intrepid but notoriously humble Uruguayan president: despite having been mocked for refusing to move to the presidential palace, – or selling his old Beetle -, he’s the one who legalized pot, and may be instrumental in doing the same for abortion, as his political ally, and the president he succeeded in 2010, Tabaré Vázquez, is set to take office again in March.
Naturally, Mujica’s decision to receive the Gitmo inmates was not free of controversy. After all, Uruguay is assuming a caretaker role for nominally a U.S. problem, or six of them, and already said that it may turn them all lose to travel to any destination.
In truth, Americans who have denounced the flagrant disrespect to its own laws shown by the U.S. government, when it decided to open an offshore facility to detain those it accused of being criminals, can’t possibly conceive that shipping them to other countries is any more honorable or even acceptable, even if it brings Gitmo to a close.
It’s startling that so few voices have consistently stood up to the pressure, by hypocritical politicians or other interests, to keep them abroad, when having civilian trials in U.S. soil, with all guarantees of defense, would only empower our judicial system, and our faith on it. But justice is exactly what’s being sacrificed here, and it’s fair to suspect that many fear the outcome.
While Uruguay will now be guarding the four Syrians, one Tunisian, and one Palestinian, 50 other countries have offered to shelter Gitmo detainees, which shows that the Obama administration still has some political capital in order to ask that kind of favor.
But the whole thing reeks of a stratagem for diversion, to keep away from the national scrutiny important decisions taken by the government on behalf of a mostly unaware citizenry; just like the tragic realities of the multiple conflicts we’ve been engaged have vanished from the headlines, and public attention. Since they’re kept apart from our prying eyes, they may as well not exist.
Or so would go such a faulty rationale. In reality, we’re postponing any real solution to the Gitmo problem, wherever it may spread around the world, because the Pentagon may have acquired too much weight on foreign policy decisions. Cynics would even relate such increased power with the number of wars the U.S. is poised to tackle, in great part for wrong military decisions.
When even a war hero turned into pacifist turned into a war Secretary of State, such as John Kerry, is lobbying Congress not to release a crucial report on torture practices adopted by the CIA, in the name of some fuzzy national security credo, we can be sure that we’re in trouble. So much for the transparency in government the candidate Obama promised long ago.
Since Capitol Hill has refused to engage into an open debate about our military adventures, leaving to defense hawks, the weapons industry, and contractor lobbyists, the task of determining foreign policy priorities, few believe that those reports, documenting the institutionalization of practices declared illegal by the Geneva Convention, will ever see the light of the day.
Still, we should be inspired by the example of courage given by a 4-million people nation such as Uruguay, to take in prisoners based on a principle, and not any direct involvement. Or the one previously displayed by Ecuador, roughly four times as populous, when it decided to grant asylum to Edward Snowden, despite strong opposition from the U.S. and its allies.
Two nations that, combined, have less people than New York State, can indeed put into shame a frightened giant that likes to consider itself the leader of the world, but is afraid that its own laws may rule against the interest of a precious few.
This could be the moment for some life reaffirming truth or self-fulfilling vision of achievement and grandeur. Instead, is a poor way to end one more chronicle about our failing ideals. Thankfully, there’s still plenty to be inspired by. Have a good one. WC

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