Shame of a Nation: Guantanamo Bay

Like any being capable of reflection, every nation must acknowledge not only its legacy of pride but its legacy of shame as well. A nation must have pride to bind its people together in common cause. Pride inspires achievement and enables us to withstand threats, to overcome barriers and to bear the burden of hardship along the path of history.

National pride is not only healthy; it is essential to the survival of a nation. But without concomitant shame to hold it in check, it becomes dangerous and ultimately self-destructive. A nation must have shame to right its wrongs, to alter a wayward course of action, to form a more just and democratic union, and (god forbid) to make reparations for injustice.

The American nation is rightfully proud of establishing the first modern and enduring democracy. We are rightfully proud of expanding the franchise to the landless, to women and minorities. We are proud of ending the damnable scourge of slavery though it required a river of American blood to accomplish it.

We are proud of our essential role in stopping the Nazi fascist machine from overrunning much of the world. We are proud of our advances in civil rights and civil liberties. We are proud of economic success and the technological advances that enabled an American to set foot on the moon, that led to the creation of the worldwide web, an unstoppable force that unites the global community.

America’s proud legacy is rich and varied but just as every man has his flaws so every nation has its legacy of shame.

That our founders built this nation on soil made rich with the blood of its native children is undeniable and as shameful as the Holocaust or any other attempt to annihilate an entire race of human beings.

We have fought wars without just cause against innocent people, killing millions of Vietnamese, Laotians, Cambodians, Indonesians and South Americans. We have built a military machine so powerful and omnipotent that it can only serve the cause of empire and greed. When we have squandered the greatest treasure the world has ever beheld on weapons of war and mass destruction while so many of our people go homeless and jobless and without decent medical care, we should be ashamed.

That we have witnessed the daily slaughter of men, women and children, watched drug lords outgun the police, enabled terrorists and madmen dedicated to massive harm, and failed in every effort to stem the tide of gun violence is shameful beyond belief. That we have failed to act in the name of the constitution and the Bill of Rights though we know in our hearts it is a fool’s argument, the verbal knee-jerk of the gullible, is all the more shameful.

In the face of all evidence that we are poisoning the planet past the point of no return, we cling to our avaricious ways and protect at all costs the right of corporations to pursue wealth without regard to cost.We would rather mortgage the health and well being of future generations than to alter our course.

For that we should be ashamed.

We exploit the vulnerable for a cheap labor force and demonize the exploited. We sanction slave labor under deplorable and inhumane conditions overseas by enforcing a hands-off, Free Trade policy, yet we are outraged when a building in Bangladesh collapses, a chemical plant in India explodes, or a sweatshop in Nepal burns to cinders.

How many lives would be spared if only we insisted on the most basic labor rights and working standards from our trading partners?

And to those compassionate corporations that have pledged to abandon Bangladesh after the latest catastrophe, don’t pretend you care if you only move your operations to a substandard facility in Malaysia.

For this we should be ashamed.

Our government has performed deadly experiments on unsuspecting, unknowing and innocent people.We have overthrown democratic governments in the name of freedom, shredded the Bill of Rights in the name of law and order, denied citizens the fundamental right to vote by a myriad of nefarious means, turned a blind eye to crimes against humanity, including genocide, and yet, at this time in history, viewed up close and personal, there is no greater shame than what we are doing on a small corner at the southern tip of Cuba at a godforsaken place called Guantanamo Bay.

From the beginning in January 2002, the Guantanamo Bay prison facility aka detention center was a bad idea, one in an almost infinite chain of bad ideas from the Neocon officials of the Bush administration. It was chosen because it was outside the United States and therefore not subject to American law.Our government claimed it was exempt from the Geneva conventions as well, a claim struck down by the Supreme Court, and yet few outside that small circle of Bush madmen would deny that the detainees of Guantanamo were tortured, abused and denied every protection of due process under the law.

Of the 779 men detained at Guantanamo, nearly 200 were released by 2004. Of the 517 detainees still held in 2005, independent reviews of Defense Department data found that 80% were not enemy combatants captured on the battlefields of Afghanistan but individuals turned over by Afghans and Pakistanis in exchange for bounty and favors. Far from the “worst of the worst” the officials claimed publicly, most of the detainees were “low level” combatants and individuals unaffiliated with terrorist groups. Eight detainees have died at Guantanamo, including six by suicide. By May 2011, 600 had been released, most without charges.

In 2008 five individual detainees were charged with acts of terrorism connected to the September 11 attack under the 2006 Military Commissions Act, an act ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court. Of all the proceedings against the detainees, exactly two have not been overturned.

Of the roughly 170 remaining in perpetual limbo at Guantanamo Bay, at least 86 have been deemed no threat and cleared for transfer. An estimated 100 are involved in a hunger strike protesting their conditions and status.Twenty-one have been force-fed through tubes inserted into their throats.

When elected President Obama promised to close Guantanamo Bay but he soon found that task politically impossible. As a result, the remaining detainees, including those determined non-threatening, are placed in a hopeless state. They have no access to anything resembling legal recourse. The trials that have been staged under the guise of military tribunals have been something out of an unfinished Kafka novel. They can neither go home nor anywhere on this earth where they can walk as free men.

That so many have chosen to starve themselves is not surprising. What would any man do under such circumstance?

Now they are being denied the right to die by their tormentors. If they persist in their refusal to eat to the point of starvation, a tube will be inserted into their throats so that their suffering can continue indefinitely.

Where is our sense of shame? Where is our compassion? Where is our sense of right and wrong? Where is the justice we proclaim to the world?

Mr. President, damn the politics and keep your promise. Close Guantanamo now.

Jack Random is the author of Ghost Dance Insurrection (Dry Bones Press) the Jazzman Chronicles, Volumes I and II (City Lights Books). The Chronicles have been published by Dissident Voice and others. Read other articles by Jack, or visit Jack's website.