Friday, June 19, 2009

Closing Gitmo – What’s the Rush?

Point: Conservative Brother

The detention facility at Guantanamo Bay should not be closed.

There. I said it.

I think that the Obama Administration is making a huge mistake by closing down that facility and trying to pawn off the detainees on other countries around the world. It is abundantly clear that the public here in the U.S. is opposed to having any of the accused terrorists anywhere on our shores (myself included), particularly with the sensitivity that we understandably still have following the events of September 11, 2001. But other countries around the world have also had their own tragic experiences with violence and terrorism throughout the years, so why should they be any more enthusiastic about having these folks unloaded in their neighborhood?

First of all, look at where the detainees are being sent. If I didn’t know better, I would think that these men, who are alleged to have participated in the planning and execution of numerous terrorist attacks over the past two decades, have won the lottery. Four of them have been sent to Bermuda (hardly the first place I would think of when trying to come up with an appropriate place for imprisonment), and in the days since they arrived have been treated as rock stars. Seriously – television interviews? Photo ops? A nice house and a beautiful new island home, complete with soon-to-arrive Bermudan citizenship?

And then there is the mighty nation of Palau that has inherited responsibility for 17 of the detainees – except I question their willingness to have taken on this burden if the government hadn’t slipped them a check for $200 million along with the end of the chain holding these folks. If Palau – a beautiful island resort, judging from the pictures I’ve seen and from having flipped through the official website for the Palau Visitors Authority – had really been willing to accept these folks, would the President have had to bribe them with the promise of a big chunk of change?

No, the detainees should be left right where they are – in Guantanamo. Yes, I agree that the process for putting these men on trial has been extended for far too long, but here’s a thought: instead of letting them go to Club Med or Rio, put them on trial! Don’t offer them any more or any less than that to which they are entitled under the articles of the Geneva Convention – simply put, don’t extend to them the protections that normal American citizens enjoy and to which they are entitled. They are not citizens, and they weren’t arrested for a DUI or robbing a bank; they were captured as a result of battlefield conflict or for their roles in planning and executing attacks that resulted in the deaths of thousands of innocent men, women and children.

I can understand this being part of Obama’s plan for restoring American’s standing in the Middle East and around the world. However, what does bending over backwards to extend mea culpas to everyone and releasing the detainees into resorts around the world have to do with restoring our standing? If anything, in this particular instance I think it makes us look incredibly weak. I don’t recall the government of Yemen apologizing when their nation was used as the launching pad for the attack on the USS Cole. I don’t recall the king of Saudi Arabia picking up the phone or sending out a statement apologizing for the fact that many of the 9-11 hijackers were Saudi citizens. Why should we apologize for what we are doing to protect ourselves and to seek retribution and punishment from those responsible?

A recent Pew survey found that more people – 46% - are opposed to closing the Guantanamo facility than are in favor of keeping it open (45%). Mr. President, Madame Speaker, Secretary Gates, Secretary Clinton – the people are telling you no (just as they have on everything from TARP to auto industry bailouts), and once again you are ignoring them?

At some point, when we as a nation weren’t looking, our national motto was changed. Thanks to Fernando Lamas, I fear our new motto – our new overarching concern – is that “It is better to look good than to feel good. Do you know what I’m saying?”

Yes, Fernando, we know – and we think it is a crock.

Counterpoint: Liberal Sister

Guantanamo must be closed now! Don't believe me?

"Obviously the Guantanamo issue is a sensitive issue for the people. I very much would like to end Guantanamo; I very much would like to get people to court." - George W. Bush, May 8, 2006

"I'd like to close Guantanamo, but I also recognize that we're holding some people that are darned dangerous, and that we'd better have a plan to deal with them in our courts. No question, Guantanamo sends, you know, a signal to some of our friends - provides an excuse, for example, to say, ’The United States is not upholding the values that they're trying (to) encourage other countries to adhere to.’ My answer to them is, is that we are a nation of laws. Eventually, these people will have trials and they will have counsel and they will be represented in a court of law." - George W. Bush, June 14, 2006

So let me get this straight...a Conservative President opened the doors to this prison and the same Conservative President realized that it should be closed (three years ago), and you are placing the blame on Obama?

Guantanamo has held roughly 800 detainees in about 7 or so years, and approximately 240 remain. Of those, how many have been actually charged with a crime? According to Bush in 2006, the problem with being able to actually press charges against the men was determining whether or not the trials should be held before a civilian court or a military tribunal. So...what's the hold up? Guantanamo has been used to house actual terrorists, suspected terrorists, and according to former Secretary Powell's then-chief of staff, Lawrence B. Wilkerson, "innocent men swept up by U.S. forces unable to distinguish enemies from noncombatants." Surely I am not the only one who sees a problem with imprisoning potentially innocent men for any length of time, let alone six or seven years.

As for the aforementioned Uighurs, their release to Bermuda was certainly an upgrade, and the media spotlight has been bright, for sure. I suppose the reason they were released was because they were innocent! The reason they were not sent to China? The Chinese Government would kill them. How would be able to justify imprisoning innocent men for years, then sending them back to China knowing that they would be executed?

And how about some alternative plans? You mentioned that Palau has taken some of the detainees...what about the Prince Mohammed bin Nayef Centre for Care and Counseling in Saudi Arabia? Certainly it has had very mixed results with the former detainees it has taken in, but it was not President Obama who sent prisoners there, it was President Bush (who, just this week, blasted Obama for reading from the very playbook Bush left for him by considering sending 100 Yemeni prisoners to the same Saudi Center). Or what about the town of Hardin, Montana? A town that has been hit so hard by the economy that the town council unanimously passed a measure to house detainees in their very expensive, and very empty, prison? If the plan is ultimately to charge these men for crimes against America, why not have them housed actually IN America?

I know there are some very bad men in Guantanamo, but I believe strongly that there are also many innocent men there who have never had a day in court, and at this rate, may never. If there was enough evidence to detain them in the first place, there should be enough evidence to charge them.

There is no saving Guantanamo. With each day that it remains open it continues to say to the world that Americans love the Justice System...most of the time.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The GOP, She Ain't What She Used to Be

Point: Liberal Sister

For many years, I heard the GOP referred to in a variety of colorful and memorable ways, most often “The Party of Lincoln” or “The Party of Reagan”. As a child, these phrases conjured up images of political giants destined to do great and powerful things. These days, however, the GOP is about as sturdy as a Lincoln Log house and as important as one of Ronald Reagan’s cheesy movies. There is much finger-pointing within the party, it seems, with no clear answer of how things have gotten so bad. I, however, have found the sources of the GOP’s woes: Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Bill O’Reilly, and Sean Hannity, or as I like to call them, The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse. And I, for one, could not be more thrilled.

Conservative readers may roll their eyes and say “of course the Liberal is going to name those guys”, but it couldn't be truer. There are undoubtedly some brilliant and respectable members of the right, like Colin Powell, but for every one of him, there are a hundred blowhards like Rush and Beck, who run off at the mouth with hate speech and fear-mongering, thereby painting the entire GOP with a very broad (and very negative) brush. If I were a Conservative, it would really frustrate and annoy me. A once-great and powerful party has imploded, and while the quiet majority seems to be searching for ways to revive the movement, the loud-mouthed minority alienates party members and will stop at nothing to blame everyone but themselves. And again, I could not be happier.

Why? Well for starters, it makes the Liberals look pretty good. After winning the majority of Congress in the 2006 elections, we have been on the upswing, while the Right seems to be in some sort of shame spiral. As far as I can tell, 2006 was really the beginning of the end, and 2008 was essentially the nail in the coffin of the GOP as we knew it. Sometimes when people of similar interests can’t work together, say an office that just can’t run efficiently, they might engage in some team-building exercises. That simply will never work for the Right, however; at least not as long as the team leaders are the aforementioned Limbaugh, Beck, O’Reilly, and Hannity.

Those who disagree with me might say that those guys don’t speak for them, but the reality is they do! As long as no one of even temper and decency steps up to the mic and tells those guys to shut up, there will never be a truly reunited GOP. Great for me, not so great for the Right. There seems to be an atmosphere of fear when it comes to the Four Horsemen, and those who have dared to speak out against them have quickly (and shamefully) retracted their comments and apologized!! Huh?

Why would I want things to change, though? More and more people are being alienated from the GOP, and while that does not necessarily imply that they join the Democratic Party, the fact is that they are less likely to vote as they once did. So as much as I absolutely loathe these guys and wish they would go away, for the sake of my party I say keep it up, Horsemen! Every time you open your mouths, you make the Liberals look so much better (or at least more functional).

Counterpoint: Conservative Brother

Ah, Lincoln and Reagan; where have those days gone? Before responding to your arguments, I would contend that both Lincoln Logs and Reagan movies have stood the test of time; the Logs have been around since 1916 and don’t appear to be going anywhere, and who would pass up the chance to watch “Santa Fe Trail” with Reagan and Errol Flynn? Good times!

You are correct that the Republican Party is in trouble, and I will agree that part of the problem is some of the people you’ve identified above. I can’t say that I have much use for Rush or Hannity myself, since they have been taken up as the voice of the right-wing of the party and are responsible for trying to drive more moderate Republicans (such as the aforementioned General Powell) out of the “big tent.” Those that criticize Beck apparently don’t take the time to actually listen to him; he’s just as critical of Republicans as he is of Democrats, in some instances even more so.

I also won’t roll my eyes and say “Of course she’d pick these folks,” particularly since the Democrats have their own crazy public faces – Keith Olbermann and Chris Matthews, to name two. If you want to talk about two folks who are almost as much in love with the President as they are with themselves, these are your guys. If I were a Democrat, they would not be the ones I’d want speaking for me – and to paraphrase you, their lunacy gives mainstream media and the liberal side of politics their own nice shiny veneer of insanity. But when was there a paradigm shift in this country when talk show hosts and political commentators were given preeminence in the parties? As you alluded, parties used to be defined by the personalities and players – the Reagans and Carters, the Johnsons and Nixons, the Kennedys and Eisenhowers, the Rayburns and Goldwaters. A party – regardless of whether it is Republican or Democrat – is more than commentators and talking heads; it is the elected officials and party operatives, the local organization presidents and delegates, and the man and woman on the street.

It’s a big leap to say that Liberals in office look good right now, particularly since they’re about to jam a cap-and-trade bill and health care reform package down our throats, neither of which we can afford and both of which will hit you, me, and everyone we know in the wallet (more accurately, it will give us a swift kick in the ass and then continue to beat us while we’re down). You’ve got to love a party that says, “We’re in charge; we want this done; we don’t care what it takes; we don’t care who we steamroll or bankrupt in the process.” This to me is one of two things I can see happening with Republicans: Americans will get so tired of the current majority throwing our grandchildren’s money around without considering the circumstances, who they hurt, or how much it costs that the will get voted out within the next few election cycles. After all, look at 1964, 1976, and 1992; in each of those years, devastating defeats (LBJ”s landslide over Goldwater, Carter’s defeat of Ford, and Clinton’s roll over Bush 41) led folks to determine the GOP was dead. Well, folks were wrong.

The other thing I can see happening is the development of a third party and both the Democrats and Republicans becoming more marginalized. Recent polls show that more people – more moderates, particularly – are ditching their party affiliation and identifying themselves as Independents. If the right-wing of the Republican Party continues to try and drive moderates away, and if conservative Democrats continue to be turned off as a result of their leadership’s reckless spending (something of which both parties have been guilty, so I’m certainly not pointing fingers here), there’s the very real possibility of a new party rolling across the horizon and changing the political landscape for quite some time to come.

Democrats in Washington functional? Hardly. But until Republicans figure out what in the world they’re doing and develop some sort of unity – unity of message and unity of membership – Democrats are about the best we’re going to get.

God help us. (Sorry; for the benefit of the ACLU or anyone else who may be reading this, I suppose I should say “Higher being/unidentified deity/generic all-encompassing undefined non-religious being help us.”)