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Dec 31, 2010

The Truth About Guantanamo

On the 22nd of December, President Barack Obama had the audacity to claim that the Guantanamo Bay detention facility was "probably the No. 1 recruitment tool" for Al Qaeda and its affiliates.

There is nothing further from the truth.

If anything, Guantanamo Bay is seen not only as beacon of justice but one of American exceptionalism.

Justice insomuch that as Americans we are bound by the rule of law, whereas this maxim is eschewed by almost all Asian and Islamic cultures who traditionally view good governance as the rule by leaders who are benevolent and virtuous, and therefore the rule of law is a principle that many hesitate to embrace. This of course brings light to that simple aphorism that without the rule of law, there can be no justice.

According to Tocqueville, America's exceptionalism lies not in being more enlightened than any other nation, but rather in her ability to repair her faults. We are and have always been a nation that recognizes our faults and then strives to rectify them. Yes, the world saw the abuses at Abu Ghraib, but they also saw the way that we as a nation dealt with it and how those responsible were tried and prosecuted.

Thanks to the media today the world can see clearly how the inmates at Guantanamo are treated and while these belligerents are denied their freedom, they are in fact treated humanely which is something that many of these prisoners would not experience in their own countries. It's been said that the level of civility in a country can be judged by the way it treats its prisoners. But judged how? and by putting a quantum on civility, that is devoid in many other nations, are we not alluding to our own exceptionalism?

Much of America and the West don't have the slightest clue as what "inhumane treatment" actually is. The liberal media tries desperately to convince us that Julian Assange suffered "in the basement of a Victorian prison" or that Bradley Manning is being tortured because he has a cell to himself and his blankets aren't soft enough. My God, books and magazines, clean clothes, hot water and soap, television and healthy food to eat? I'd say Bradley Manning is getting five start treatment compared to what he would get overseas in another country.

So what actually is inhumane treatment. For me, quite simply, it is when you are treated less than human.

Imagine being overseas locked away, languishing in a crowded dark cell, never seeing the light of day and subsisting on a meager diet consisting of little more than boiled rice and water. A cell so overcrowded that there is not room for everyone to lay down at once and when you do get a chance to lay down you sleep on a a cold concrete floor with cockroaches crawling all over you. Denied any medical treatment and all of what the United Nations deems to be the basic necessities, no soap, no hot water, no television and no reading materials, absolutely nothing. Some more you are afforded absolutely no legal representation, nor are you allowed such. A simple request even to contact your nation's embassy denied. You are alone.

Stripped not only of your dignity but, above all, of your humanity, it isn't the brutal inhumane conditions that you lament so much, but the absence of justice. Quoting Rosenfeld, What I was to learn firsthand was that "no man suffers injustice without learning, vaguely but surely, what justice is."

It was in October of this year I had the misfortune of the spending three weeks locked up overseas in a crowded cell full of Indonesians and Pakistanis, It was during that time I befriended two Pakistanis, Asif and Hafiz. Asif's crime was that his employer had failed to apply for his new work visa. Hafiz's crime, was that his passport had been stolen.

During my detention, I would share my meager rations with Asif and Hafiz and we would communicate in broken English and Malay with each other. The three of us spoke of religion, politics, even of Guantanamo and the basic human rights that should be afforded to detainees such as ourselves. Together we wondered where was the world's outrage was, did anyone even know what was happening. Over and over we kept asking ourselves how could this be happening, how is it that men can be so cruel to one another.

For one three day stretch, there was no drinking water brought to the cell. Asif had turned to me and said "Even a dog does not have to beg for water." and he was right. Another night, delirious with a high fever and curled up in a fetal position it was Asif who would bang the bars of the cell begging for a blanket for me, only to be denied, he would eventually take off his own shirt and cover me so that I could keep warm. The special bond that developed between the three of us is something difficult to explain and to put it simply, we took care of each other in conditions where we were treated worse than animals.

In their mid-twenties, both Asif and Hafiz seemed to know instinctively that such violations of human rights did not exist in America or the West. I asked

Hafiz how he knew this. Hafiz simply replied, "This won't happen in your country because you have the law."

It was the word "Guantanamo" that attracted attention in the cell as a few Indonesians came over to hear what was being said. As they sat down, Hafiz said, "Do you know what is international law?" Hafiz went on to explain we all had human rights. It came as a mild surprise to me that not only did Asif and Hafiz know about the humane treatment of the prisoners in Guantanamo, but the Indonesians did as well. At this point one of the Indonesians said that not only did they hear that the prisoners in Guantanamo got healthy food to eat but he had also heard from a friend that the prisoners in Guantanamo could see a dentist as well. He looked over at me and asked in Indonesian, "Betul tak?" (Is it true?). I nodded my head.

For Asif, Hafiz and the Indonesians, America is an exceptional country because we have the law and with that, we have justice.

As someone who has studied history, traveled the world and spent a considerable amount of time living overseas, I can assure you that in our ever darkening world, America continues to be that shining city on the hill.

There is a part of me that is now gone forever and I only hope one day I might be able to recover it.

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1 comment:

  1. Lao,
    Thanks for continuing to share your horrible experience with us. It is because of such horrible stories (once again, let me express my happiness that you're back home in one piece) that I know America is the greatest country in the world. Period.

    Where are you now, if you don't mind me asking? I remember you're from Texas originally. Are you back here?

    ReplyDelete

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