Obama, Guantánamo, and US Hypocrisy

Snapshots from the United States of Incarceration…

So, the Pope of Hope announced his (purported) objective of closing the military detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba (“Gitmo”) within one year and we’re expected to herald this announcement as a drastic break from the past. But—as some of the regulars on my blog instantly declared—if President Obama were serious about hope and change, he’d close the prison tomorrow, apologize to the detainees, and offer them financial reparations. That could be promptly followed up with the immediate indictment of all government officials (including those in Obama’s administration) responsible for supporting torture, secret prisons, extraordinary rendition, extrajudicial punishment, etc. And why not toss in the immediate closing of the US military base at Guantánamo Bay and the return of that land to Cuba? That, I submit, would be a minuscule first step upon which we could build.

Waiting a year to close a single prison is nothing to celebrate. Transferring those illegally detained humans is not change anyone can believe in. Public promises about not torturing have been heard before and even if we could trust such dubious assurances, why are we so goddamned appreciative when a US president merely declares his theoretical intention to think about adhering to fundamental international law?

The Chairman of Change has made no secret of how he wholeheartedly adores the bogus war on terror. Closing Gitmo (an act which still falls squarely into the believe-it-when-you-see-it category) is at best a strategic sidestep by a cautious and calculating new president.

A related New York Times piece began oh-so-cleverly: “Is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed coming to a prison near you?” In the Jan. 24, 2009 article—“Guantánamo Detainees? Not in My State,”—journalists (sic) Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane wrung their hands over the 245 remaining inmates being “released into quiet neighborhoods across the United States.” It’s illustrative of the utter depravity we tolerate as normal in the home of the brave that war criminals like Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, Dick Cheney, Wesley Clark, Colin Powell, Bill Clinton, etc. etc. walk freely among us while the newspaper of record preys on gullible readers with sensationalism and xenophobic fear mongering.

In that same Times article, Mazzetti and Shane inadvertently offered another manifestation of America’s cultural rot when they mentioned a discussion of reopening San Francisco’s Alcatraz Prison specifically for the assumed terrorists detained (illegally) at Gitmo. But a spokesman for California Senator Diane Feinstein was quick to clarify that Alcatraz was a “national park and tourist attraction, not a functioning prison,” and that the senator “does not consider it a suitable place to house detainees.”

I suggest you take a few seconds to contemplate the depth of moral vacuity it requires for a society to accept a former prison as a national park and tourist attraction. Alcatraz is not an ancient artifact that curious humans are lining up to explore but rather, it’s merely a inactive part of still fully active injustice system. More than one out of every 100 American adults is imprisoned in the land of the free while others plunk down cash to tour a prison?

As of December 31, 2007: 2,193,157 prisoners were held in Federal or State prisons or in local jails. That’s an estimated 506 prison inmates per 100,000 US residents. Breaking it down more specifically, there are…

  • 481 white male prison inmates per 100,000 white males in the US
  • 1,259 Hispanic male inmates per 100,000 Hispanic males
  • 3,138 black male inmates per 100,000 black males

(Of course, this doesn’t include all the dis-labeled folks locked in nursing homes against their will and the innumerable animals in laboratories, zoos, etc.)

As Angela Davis sez: “There’s always a tendency to push prisons to the fringes of our awareness [so] we don’t have to deal with what happens inside of these horrifying institutions.”

Take-home message: Gitmo is a symptom. Barack Obama is a symptom. Obama promising to close Gitmo is like placing a band-aid over a cancerous tumor.

Mickey Z. is the author of 11 books, most recently the novel Darker Shade of Green. Until the laws are changed or the power runs out, he can be found on an obscure website called Facebook. Read other articles by Mickey.

18 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on January 26th, 2009 at 11:54am #

    gitmo=shebaa farms. who’s teaching whom? -gitmo+torture prisons 1,2,3,4,5,6=5 prisons. thnx

  2. SJ said on January 26th, 2009 at 12:58pm #

    Let us please not forget that which is omitted by this Obama, the other foreign prisons we have set up in the ME. The return of Habeas Corpus. More violations of international law in the continued bombing and occupation of Afghanistan and Pakistan. Supposed 600 imprisoned in Afghanistan. The transfer of some from Guantanamo to Iraq prisons. Where they can continue protected by our new leader to do their dirty work under the radar, to bogus hazy terrorists. This man has the public blindfolded, and it is going to take every bit as much if not more to unmask and show this emperor is not wearing any clothes.

  3. joed said on January 26th, 2009 at 2:42pm #

    what is wrong with you people. you call yourself “dissident” but the best you can do is hang around the FREE SPEACH ZONE (internet blog stuff) and whine and cry and think you are changing things.
    hardship and sacrifice is what is needed to make real change. do the sane people have to listen to you guys whine and cry for another 4 years. why don’t you do something to make a real change.
    i read about everthing i can writen by mr. z we need more writings like his. but come on people go hit the streets and hit’em hard.
    or, do you want some cheese with your whine.

  4. bozh said on January 26th, 2009 at 2:54pm #

    joed,
    only education and a strong political party opposing duopoly (really one party) can change the basics.
    at the moment education, cia, fbi, army are controled by the ruling party.
    unless we do not make even partially their cia, army, fbi our cia, fbi, army not much can be expected.
    hitting the streets wld help only if one cld muster 200mn walkers.
    in US one can get perhaps at most a few mns walkers. and uncle sam is least worried about that possibility. thnx

  5. RH2 said on January 26th, 2009 at 3:02pm #

    joed,

    Are you a US citizen? If yes, have you ever stood in front of the White House with a bottle of whisky (instead of a gun) in the hand and demanded change? Or do you sit at home and watch Blondies on Fox News?

    Thank you

  6. RH2 said on January 26th, 2009 at 3:34pm #

    Joed,

    I deeply regret treating you sarcastically and sincerely apologize for that. I understand your bitterness. But how could you get those masses to the streets? Masses celebrating with tears in the eyes the “New” chocolate color president who promised Israel an undivided Jerusalem, who promised to terrorise Pakistan, who promised to keep nuking Iran “on the table” ?
    Yes, we are desperate. That is the way it is,,,,, hopeless.

    Please, excuse me.

    Thank you

  7. Garrett said on January 26th, 2009 at 4:17pm #

    bozh wrote, “only education and a strong political party opposing duopoly (really one party) can change the basics.”

    How do we (who is we?) make the masses aware of plutocratic rule and the many atrocities committed by Uncle Sam? If the masses are made aware, what would be the response/reaction? Would anything change? Would people march? Would people boycott various corporations? Would people form a new political party or join a “3rd” party?

    These are questions I consider. I’d like to think a revolution is coming. But when? In what form?

    joed,

    Many suffer hardship, though not the extreme poverty found in other nations. The plutocracy – with the help of divide and conquer strategies, as well as media distortion and miseducation – won’t allow quite enough hardship for the kind of massive revolt we need.

    Sacrifice by whom? In what form?

    Hit the streets in what way?

    Let’s get specific.

  8. bozh said on January 26th, 2009 at 4:43pm #

    garret,
    US may be the only country that has no socialist party. be it as it may, only socialism can confront fascism or a plutocratic rule.
    at this time we cannot enlighten adults nor children because the fascists control all education: adverts, basic schooling, colleges, universities; media, entertainment info or messages.

    nader has started or may start a second party in US. i do not know whether his bloc is a party or movement.
    unfortunately, nader received just about 660,000 votes. fascists appear least worried about it.
    they received 98% of votes. a socialist or an opposing party must receive at least 60% of votes to make a dent only. you`d need about 90% of support.

    a revolution wld change things, of course. but in US it is not likely to happen in decades if ever.
    and the “we“ as i use it means mostly working people. thnx

  9. joed said on January 26th, 2009 at 4:46pm #

    real change starts here
    http://news.yahoo.com/s/ap/odd_expressway_shoes

    bozh; you are a most wonderful contributor to this and other sites. thanks so much for your reasonable thoughts.
    i consider myself to be a citizen of earth.
    shuting down a country is much much easier than one may think.
    no violence except by the pigs. one way; just stop buying stuff. i know i know, you gotta’ buy food and safety and medical etc. but other than that–just stop.
    johnathan schell’s book “the unconquerable world” chapter 6.
    create the community you want to live in and ignore the govt as best one can.
    but for shit sakes, stop whining.

  10. The Angry Peasant said on January 26th, 2009 at 8:17pm #

    As I said before, everyone stop working. No more toil. We will not be mindless drones for the state any longer. We will not passively accept low pay, no health care, no day care, no retirement guarantess. Enough is enough. Never mind boycotting these bastards. We’ve got to stop making their corporate machines run for them—for nothing but barest survival.

  11. Jack said on January 26th, 2009 at 8:36pm #

    The AP wrote:

    “As I said before, everyone stop working. No more toil. We will not be mindless drones for the state any longer. We will not passively accept low pay, no health care, no day care, no retirement guarantess. Enough is enough. Never mind boycotting these bastards. We’ve got to stop making their corporate machines run for them—for nothing but barest survival.”

    Reminds me of wisdom from the late, truly great Utah Phillips:

    “The bum on the rods is hunted down
    As the enemy of mankind
    The other is driven around to his club
    Is feted, wined and dined.
    And they who curse the bum on the rods
    As the essence of all that is bad,
    Will greet the other with a winning smile,
    And extend the hand so glad.

    The bum on the rods is a social flea
    Who gets an occasional bite,
    The bum on the plush is a social leech,
    blood sucking day and night.
    The bum on the rod is a load so light
    That his weight we scarcely feel,
    But it takes the labor of dozen of men
    To furnish the other a meal.

    As long as you sanction the bum on the plush
    The other will always be there,
    But rid yourself of the bum on the plush
    And the other will disappear.
    Then make an intelligent, organized kick
    Get rid of the weights that crush.
    Don’t worry about the bum on the rods,
    Get rid of the bum on the flush.”

    And of the wise recommendations of Hakim Bey…

  12. Magarulian said on January 27th, 2009 at 12:49am #

    RH2 asks “But how could you get those masses to the streets?”

    Garrett asks “If the masses are made aware, what would be the response/reaction? Would anything change? Would people march? Would people boycott various corporations?”

    bozh says “a revolution wld change things, of course. but in US it is not likely to happen in decades if ever.”

    As a full-time bicyclist for the past 30 years, I can tell you, for certain, that if people were denied the use of their personal, private automobiles (for whatever reason) – all hell would break loose in this country!

    If the sheeple were denied their technological toys – cell phones, blackberries, i-pods, facebooks, etc. – all hell would not break loose. These losses would result in much whimpering and in the sucking of thumbs.

    I don’t know what this difference means. Both groups (with many overlapers) would do ANYTHING to be able to resume their addictions. The Empire knows this.

    Somewhere, there lies an actual revolution against the powers-that-be. The best road to it is stated in the The Declaration of Independence, but who pays any attention to that document anymore?

    “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

    …That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,

    …That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.

    …when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.”

  13. john andrews said on January 27th, 2009 at 1:35am #

    Another great piece MickeyZ, thank you.

    Bozh,
    I know we’ve had this conversation before, but I really think you’re wrong about hoping for some political party to ride to the rescue. Although I agree that in theory it could work, it’s just so unlikely that a truly compassionate party would ever be allowed to thrive – it would be too dangerous and put to the sword one way or another. I think your view on the importance of education is closer to the money – educating people to take control of their own lives, to take back power from politicians and restore it where it belongs: in their own hands. David Edwards puts it very well in his book ‘The Compassionate Revolution’:
    “If nothing else, hatred of individuals [such as politicians]… might actually fool us into imagining that our leaders are the controllers, rather than the functionaries, of a state-corporate system which selects or rejects ‘leaders’ according to their ability to follow its requirements, and which has long transcended the power of mere individuals. It might even persuade us to imagine that such people – and not we ourselves – have the power to reform the system – one of the most potent controlling delusions of all.”

    Free Democracy is a solution
    http://www.freedemocrats.co.uk

  14. Red Rick said on January 27th, 2009 at 4:12am #

    “All that is required for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing…”

    The question then remains what exactly to do? Protests certainly have their place, if only to show people that they are far from alone in their wishes for justice and fairness for all peoples. But protests are little more than sops to conscience, sorry to say, as the millions who marched in protest of the coming invasion of Iraq found out.

    Revolution some say, and I agree. But revolutions take more forms than one first considers and to oppose the greatest military force in the world seems futile to me. There are simply far too many good citizens who believe that USA is what it claims to be, a bastion of freedom and a bestower thereof to the world.

    I will see a revolution when more than a handful of voters turn out for local and regional elections. I will see a revolution when third party support grows enough to place elected officials in our state and national governments in large enough numbers to advance progressive agendas. Revolution begins with education.

  15. RH2 said on January 27th, 2009 at 4:40am #

    Joed,

    I have read the news in the link you have chosen as an example of change, “Thousands of shoes tie up Miami freeway traffic.”
    As Magarulian said, If people were denied the use of their personal, private automobiles (for whatever reason)- all hell would break loose in this country!”
    The Miami shoes could have angered some drivers evaluating them as a traffic nuisance, could have offered some others a kind of amusement.
    Yes, depriving people of personal objects would result in serious mass protest and resistance not only in the US, but also in Europe, whereas obstructing and interrogating a lawyer defending “a prisoner of terrorism” would entail less protest, if any at all.

    Now, are ideas of justice and aspirations for local and world peace personal, private possessions? I find it intellectually difficult to enhance my computer (my possession) with which I am writing this post to the level of an idea, a universal concept. In my assessment this approach would lead us nowhere. What is the alternative?
    I don ‘t know.

  16. joed said on January 27th, 2009 at 7:39am #

    hello RH2,
    im not sure what you are saying but, seems to me i read somewhere that only about 20% of population in 1776 amerika were involved in the “revolution” . those that gotta’ have their cellphones may not be conscious of the “deep doodoo” they are sinking into. legal concepts are way beyond most people. habeus corpus is dead in the water because the masses can not understand it nor can they realize that the loss of hc affects them mightily. and, most of those that do understand the concept still do realize the necessity of action in regaining hc, they trust the fucking polititians. the concept is, in and of itself, power.but, the concept is not sufficent in itself to cause change. no, it be people (20%?) what gotta’ make it happen. HR2, i am not optimistic about the future of amerika and the entire human specie.
    one thing for certain, they gonna’ haf’ta tie me up and put me on that bus. i aint gettin’ on willingly.
    and, maybe who ever put those shoes on the freeway used a cell phone to coordinate their efforts, i dont know but seems technology can be very useful. a persons relationship to technology says a lot doesnt it!

  17. RH2 said on January 27th, 2009 at 9:01am #

    Dear joed,

    I have no problem understanding a persons relationship to technology. My problem arises from the notion of being under the necessity of doing something comparable in the context of possession and thought. It is very probable that I would run after you in the cold if you take away my computer. Would I run after you in the cold if you are silent on Obama telling us a nuclear Iran is unacceptable, whereas a nuclear, chemical and biological Isreal, a notorious criminal beyond reasonable doubt, is in defiance of “international law” acceptable and even defendable? I very probably would not.

  18. Garrett said on January 28th, 2009 at 1:43pm #

    AP,

    Folks aren’t going to stop working when their jobs are the only thing keeping a roof over their heads and food on the table. It won’t happen.

    Stopping empty/needless consumerism is a more feasible solution, but also an extremely difficult task.

    Good discussion, all.