Monday, February 13, 2006

A Sad Day

It's another sad day in the history of this country, Bush, when the Los Angeles Times headline reinforces what we have suspected for a long time now: that our nation has violated, and continues to violate the rights of those men we're holding at Guantanamo Bay. This time it's the report of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights--not yet published, but previewed by the Times. From what I understand, the U.S. is challenged on two major counts: the first is the right to hold these men at all; the second, the less then humane treatment to which they have been subjected.

You have become known, Bush, for your propensity to interpret the law to serve your own convenience and your own agenda. That goes for both our own and international laws. In the past few weeks alone, your folks have made a mockery of the law of this country, twisting its language and intent to claim authority to spy on our own citizens. With regard to the Guantanamo prisoners, you claim entitlement to hold them under the international rule of war that allows a country to hold "enemy combatants" without charges or access to counsel for the duration of hostilities. The intention, of course, is to keep them from returning to the field once they've been captured. But having defined the "war on terror" as an endless battle, you nicely give yourself permission to hold these particular men indefinitely. Many of them, we're led to understand, have little or no demonstrable connection with your terrorist foes, but apparently you have also taken upon yourself the right to determine who is an "enemy combatant" and who is not. Turns out, conveniently, it's anyone you say is one.

As for their treatment, since the U.N. commission was denied access to the prisoners, we come back to having to trust your word. But there are grounds enough to believe that you may be defining terms again to suit your own purposes. You have insisted unambiguously that America "does not torture"--but you would seem to be excluding from that term a good deal of behavior that most civilized people would include: the description of the force-feeding of prisoners sounds brutal enough to me, and there have been too many other reports of heavy-handed treatment to be dismissed with the cavalier self-assurance of your legal people.

It seems to me, in my perhaps simple-minded way, that we always do well to listen to the criticism of others. No matter that it may sting at first, I have always found that I profit immensely if I listen and learn. Your own knee-jerk reaction, Bush, has been to reject anything that questions the wisdom of your actions, and instead to attack the credibility--if not the person---of your critic. It's a pattern. So I have no doubt that this report will be summarily dismissed by your admnistration. It might be important to remember, though, that the vast majority of people on this planet are more likely to believe the report by a commission of the United Nations than yourself.

Once more, we're forced to contemplate the spectacle of the damage your arrogance has inflicted, not only on the world--though that in itself is significant--but also on the reputation of this once widely admired country. You promised to return honor and dignity to the White House, Bush--and by implication to the rest of us Americans. Instead, you've dragged our name through the mud. And have made the world, not incidentally, a far more dangerous place. You may attribute blame for this to those ruthless terrorists. And they have played their part. No question. But it is you, yourself, on your own initiative, who turned what should have been an internationally cooperative police action into a third world war.

I repeat, it's another sad, sad day in the history of these United States.

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