International House of Dan: "The Food Was Delicious"

Friday, November 10, 2006

"The Food Was Delicious"

As expected, the president of a right wing think-tank like The Heritage Foundation has a... unique view of our detention facility in Guantanamo. He is entitled to that view, but his slanted perspective deserves a response.

He may have been trying to open with a joke when he ridiculed prisoners on a hunger strike, writing that it "is a pity for them -- the food was delicious", but I see it as an indication of a mind closed off from reality by the blinders of "the war on terror." Even if we think that detainee complaints are without merit, it is irresponsible and infantile to make light of them.

Dr. Feulner complains that "the most outspoken critics of American policy haven't bothered to visit Guantanamo", which is ironic, since much of the criticism surrounding Guantanamo centers on the consistent denial of full access to lawyers and delegates from the United Nations or the Red Cross. His assertion that "[n]o government is required under the laws of war to charge enemy combatants with any crime; anyone picked up on a battlefield may be held until hostilities end" is the result of a selective reading of the law and of reality. Dr. Feulner's background is not in law, but I suspect his use of "enemy combatants" and "prisoners of war" as synonyms is deliberate, and necessary to justify his position; which is to say nothing of the fact that in designating detainees as "enemy combatants" beyond the protections of the Geneva Conventions, the Bush administration failed to sever their right to be free from unlawful imprisonment under international humanitarian law and the U.S. Constitution.

The permissible indefinite detention Feulner writes of is one in which uniformed troops captured in battle can be held (think "Hogan's Heroes") not the repository for suspects swept up in raids before a determination of status or guilt has been made. The detainees in Guantanamo are not merely waiting out the war, they are actively interrogated and prosecuted for alleged ties to criminal activities abroad.

Feulner continues that "the Geneva Convention does not require that detainees be allowed to speak to lawyers and does not give them the right to challenge their detention in civilian courts." While it is true that Geneva does not create rights of access to the domestic courts of its signatories, it is untrue that Geneva is the end-all in the case of Guantanamo detainees. The Bush administration has attempted to use the geographic location and legal status of detainees to create jurisdictional and procedural bars to the exercise of rights available to them under Geneva, the U.S. Constitution, or both.

Both documents guarantee access to legal assistance under certain circumstances, and any exception to that applicable to Guantanamo detainees is the result of the administration's status juggling in a deliberate attempt to restrict judicial oversight over its actions. It is the same sort of legal spin used to exempt civilian contractors carrying out military duties on behalf of the U.S. in Iraq from liability under U.S. or Iraqi law. I hardly see our ability to abide by rules we have twisted to fit our situation as something to be proud of.

Feulner goes on to boast that "[w]e're not only protecting the lives of detainees, we're respecting their religious traditions as well", failing to mention that this is required under Geneva. Would he have us believe that we do this solely out of compassion and not in order to avoid a backlash from an angry Islamic world? We all saw the reaction to reports of mistreatment of the Quran by guards, certainly a man with Dr. Feulner's expertise is not naive enough to believe that our motives are purely altruistic.

Dr. Feulner's presumption of guilt for all detainees makes it easy for him to rationalize the instances in which former detainees have committed violent acts upon their release. Those who do not share his ideologically driven blindness might wonder if it seems reasonable that a wrongly detained civilian might be released once his innocence is established, but that he would decide to join the insurgency as a result of years of imprisonment and interrogation. Or that perhaps a farmer who had been conscripted by the Taliban would voluntarily take up arms upon release after being confined among and indoctrinated by "true believers" (it is, after all, quite common for inmates in our prisons to "graduate" to more serious crimes after imprisonment among hardened criminals).

Feulner's assertion that "the U.S. military will not, as a matter of policy, send a detainee to a country where he is likely to be tortured" is anything but reassuring. The U.S. has been under intense criticism for the extraordinary rendition of terror suspects to countries that the State Department has accused of using torture. His admonition that we "[r]emember that the next time [we]'re told the United States condones torture" is as comical as Cpt. Renault's shock that there is gambling going on at Rick's.

Dr. Feulner ends with the reassuring mantra, that we are "[w]inning the war on terror, while still treating our enemies humanely." I realize that most of the links in this post are from previous years, and I do not wish to leave you with the impression that there has not been tremendous improvement. However, I think it is irresponsible, if not deliberate, of Dr. Feulner to leave his readers with the impression that they should gloss over our past mistakes, abuses, and errors, not to mention the countless hours and ordeals it has taken to correct them, just because he enjoyed his lunch.

We will continue to repeat our mistakes for as long as we fail to acknowledge their error. It will not be you, or me, or the people at conservative think-tanks who have to deal with the repercussions of our failed policies, it is the troops that Dr. Feulner praises in his closing.


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