Guantanamo Diary


President Obama, if you are still planning to close the prison camp at Guantanamo, now would be a really good time.

The notorious site, opened by the Bush administration post 9/11 to hold “enemy combatants,” continues to represent a stain on America’s human rights record. Since it opened in January 2002, 779 individuals have been held there, some subject to the worst of the American torture program, including waterboarding, sleep deprivation, stress positions, mock executions and, more recently under the Obama administration, force feeding. Currently, 60 individuals are still imprisoned, 20 of whom were cleared for release and 31 of whom remain uncharged with any crimes and unable to access any legal or justice system. The prisoners have ranged in age from 89 to 13. Yes, 13 years old. In fact, the U.S. has detained 21 child “enemy combatants” since opening. Nine detainees died in custody, and it’s not clear in each case from what causes. Here are more facts from the ACLU (which you should support!)

In the name of security, the U.S. has imprisoned individuals in Guantanamo, some for 14 years or more, without being able to provide evidence of their alleged crimes . Furthermore, little actionable intelligence has been gathered from these individuals that we know of, whether through conventional interrogation or torture (Chicago Tribune):

We now know that, in spring 2002, after months of intensive and “enhanced” interrogations had failed to produce any useful intelligence, the CIA sent its top Arabic specialist to the island prison. He interviewed dozens of the detainees and discovered why we weren’t getting actionable intelligence: We had the wrong guys. He reported that most simply “didn’t belong there.” His report was buried.

By summer 2004, however, it had become generally acknowledged that none of the detainees then at Guantanamo was a significant player. Most had been picked up soon after 9/11 in and around Afghanistan and sold into captivity by local tribes people for bounties. They were not the leaders who were known to have escaped, but at most low-level foot soldiers, as well as a lot of innocent people swept up by mistake.

It’s at best unclear how Guantanamo has kept us safe. In fact, to the contrary, we have pretty solid evidence that Guantanamo has helped produce more terrorists, not fewer.

President Obama promised to close Guantanamo’s prison camp on his second day in office. He has certainly tried, albeit with little cooperation from Congress. However, given the circumstances eight years later, it’s time for him to make good on the promise.

President-elect Trump has stated that he not only wants to keep Guantanamo open, he wants to fill it with “bad dudes.” He has also expressed comfort with detaining and trying suspected terrorist American citizens at the camp, something prohibited by the Constitution. Senator Tom Cotton of Arkansas, one of Trump’s finalist for Secretary of Defense, has said every detainee still in Guantanamo should “rot in hell.” It’s possible the 20 individuals cleared for release could remain for another four years just because Trump feels like it. Guantanamo stands as a sordid remnant of a dark chapter in American history that would best be ended before Trump’s administration continues it indefinitely.

Who could better make this case than a Guantanamo detainee?

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The Myth of Race


Less than a week after the election of Donald Trump as the 45th president of the United States, hate crimes and hate speech are spiking across the country, much as they did after the Brexit vote earlier this year. Just this week it was announced by the FBI that hate crimes against Muslims are up 67 percent, to the highest levels since the post-9/11 months. And this is data from before Trump’s election. Regardless of the reasons for Trump’s victory – “economic anxiety,” Democratic party incompetence, sexism, bigotry – his win has emboldened those with racist, misogynistic, xenophobic, anti-Semitic views who have interpreted it as a national endorsement of their worldview.

Back around the start of the primaries, when we were all laughing at the idea of a Republican Trump nominee (let alone president), I read through a harrowing book: “The Myth of Race: The Troubling Persistence of an Unscientific Idea” by Robert Wald Sussman. The book is predicated on a fact the author believes needs no further litigation – there is no such thing as race. There are no biological, intellectual, or scientific differences between humans of various skin tones or facial features. This is accepted science worldwide since at least 1950 and the end of the appalling hegemony of the eugenics movement, which sucked in even American presidents (in 1912, three presidential candidates – Roosevelt, Taft and Wilson – all supported the eugenics movement, so, yeah, Trump’s words have presidential precedence).

I already agreed with this premise prior to buying the book. I thought surely anyone exposed to this idea would agree. Yet, even many who don’t consider themselves racist today are slow to accept this truth. Here’s a powerful article from Sussman about how deeply ingrained the idea of race is from our earliest formative days. The myth of race goes unchallenged for most of us during our upbringing, and that its rejection is the anomaly seems very backwards in 2016. However, that’s clearly still our reality.

“The Myth of Race” tells a history of the concept of racism, and of people and organizations that continue to reject and undermine this idea, from the Spanish Inquisition through colonialism and slavery to present day. Even now, the ideas of “scientific racism” persist. Even now, professors at actual universities in the United States are publishing articles within a framework inherited from eugenics, often disguised as research from the “evolutionary perspective.”

“But surely these people represent a fringe of society and a dying ideology?” I thought to myself then. “Surely the vast majority of people would soundly reject bigotry when confronted with it?” Today, I’m reassessing that conclusion. I don’t believe all Trump voters are racists or committing hate crimes. But certainly a lot more people in the United States are willing to look beyond these deplorable acts and beliefs than I once assumed. Sussman’s book lays out a historical case why this has been true in the past and still is today.

In truth, many of the racist and hateful organizations of the past never went away. They went undercover.

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