Guantanamo Diary

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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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Iran and Pakistan

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I talked with the president at one of those fundraisers some months back, and I asked him, “What keeps you up at night?”

And he said, “Everything. Everything that gets to my desk is a critical mass. If it gets to my desk, then no one else could have handled it.” So I said, “So what’s the one that keeps you up at night?”

He goes, “There are quite a few.”

So I go, “What’s the one? Period.”

And he says, “Pakistan.”

-George Clooney, 2011

I recently finished a couple of books – A History of Iran: Empire of the Mind and Pakistan: A Hard Country. Noticing a lot of striking differences between the two neighboring countries Iran and Pakistan, particularly when factoring in the misinformed common wisdom about each nation, I decided to put together a comparative study on these two Islamic powers, because apparently that’s the kind of thing I do for fun.

Both nations are fascinating remnants of massive empires, and my quick survey begs the question – which of these countries has the best outlook, which can be a positive force in the world, and which should the international community be most concerned about? As opinions stand at the moment, seems we might have it backwards.

If we’re worried about an Islamic extremism and nuclear threat in the Middle East, why is so much focus on Iran and so little on Pakistan, a nation that’s already nuclear and a haven to religious extremists? Perhaps cultural heritage and tradition drives Western attitudes? Perhaps recent history? Perhaps an outdated, post-Cold-War, ideological foreign policy vision of global hegemony?

First, let’s look at some of the demographics and history of Iran and Pakistan:

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