Wednesday, 26 June 2013

Caribbean Kesh

It’s hard to imagine that those who protested the mistreatment of Irish Republican prisoners over the last 45 years are not gravely concerned about the hunger strikes, forced feeding, and lack of due process at the US prison in Guantánamo.

Some, no doubt, are hesitant to speak out for fear of seeming to support the hard core Al Qaeda members interned, but all of these prisoners deserve their day in court if only to uphold American concepts of justice.

Many were swept up in the aftermath of the US invasion of Afghanistan – often by Pakistanis and Afghans eager to collect the $5000 bounty payments offered by the US. Most were low to mid-level Taliban supporters involved in a civil war against the Northern Alliance and others.

Although my sympathies were with the Northern Alliance and their leader Ahmad Shah Massoud, no one would have accused this charismatic man of being a Jeffersonian Democrat. Along with other warlords he was responsible for the destruction of large parts of Kabul. Nor was he a feminist; in fact odious as they eventually became, the Taliban was initially formed to protect village women from rape and to restore law and order in an anarchistic country.

Many of those interned in Guantánamo were not originally committed enemies of the USA; given their background and education they wouldn’t have been able to find New York on a map. You can bet your bottom dollar, however, that after 12 years of forced detention without a trial they’re not exactly whistling Yankee Doodle Dandy.

A sizeable number, including over fifty Yemenis, were given clearance for repatriation to their home countries by a committee of top national security officials, but because of congressional resistance and presidential apathy they’re being held in a legal limbo.

President Obama claims he would close down Guantánamo but House Republicans will not allow him to transfer the prisoners to mainland prisons. What are they afraid of? Contaminating the morals of the heartland? When was the last time anyone broke out of a US high-security prison?

The argument against either a civil or military trial of the top level Al Qaeda operatives is that self-incriminating evidence gained through torture may not be admissible. The Bush/Cheney chickens continue to come home to roost – this time in the form of waterboarding, a.k.a. simulated drowning.

That being said, I’m in no way convinced that, even given the torture issues, some of our keenest prosecutorial minds wouldn’t be able to lay a couple of lifetimes behind bars on Khalid Sheik Muhammed and his Qaeda killers.

The hunger strike was supposedly the last line of defense in ancient Irish life. “If your more powerful neighbor has denied you justice, go sit on his doorstep and starve yourself until he relents,” is the legend handed down.

Both the Red Cross and United Nations recognize that a prisoner of sound mind has a right to hunger strike as a last resource. Right now we have 104 ticking time bombs in Guantánamo, 41 of them being force-fed. You don’t need to be a brain surgeon to know where this will end up.

Shackling prisoners to special chairs with head restraints, while shoving tubes up their noses for over 30 minutes, is not only inhumane, it provides a publicity bonanza and a recruiting tool for Al Qaeda. Forcibly administering them Raglan, an anti-nausea drug with serious side effects, may help keep these hunger strikers alive, but says little for us as a society.

Close down this Caribbean Long Kesh, repatriate the low level prisoners to their country of origin, disperse the actual Al Qaeda supporters to Federal high security mainland prisons and then afford them fair trials. Their day is over. It’s time for us to restore the US to its “shining city on the hill” status. Let’s put these last twelve years of un-American behavior once and for all in the rear mirror.

We, of all people, know the value of symbols. Let’s not create an Al Qaeda Bobby Sands. We’re better than that.

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