In the U.S. Senate, elections don’t seem to mean much. After the Republicans were booted in 2006, amid much optimism that war funding would be cut and that the world would see an end of U.S. aggression, it was simply business as usual.
But the U.S. voters persevered. In 2008 they gave Congress an even larger Democratic majority and installed a Democrat in the White House. They seemed, somewhat naively it turns out, to believe that this would usher in the change they could believe in.
And to be sure, there have been some changes. Political prisoners will no longer be tortured, we are all told, and President Obama’s first European venture as president ushered in a conciliatory era, ejecting the ‘my-way-or-the-highway’ attitude of his murderous predecessor.
Yet these changes were initiated by the president and did not need Congressional approval. When it comes to anything meaningful that does, it appears that a Democratic Congress is as criminal as a Republican one.
On May 20, the Senate followed the House’s lead and rejected funding to close the U.S.’s Cuba-based torture chamber at Guantanamo. Senator John Thune, R-SD may have summed it up for his illustrious colleagues in Congress: “The American people don’t want these men walking the streets of America’s neighborhoods. The American people don’t want these detainees held at a military base or federal prison in their backyard, either.”
Some of ‘these men’ as the good senator so disdainfully refers to them, have been rotting in that hellhole for years without being charged with anything. Does Mr. Thune believe that the American people are willing to incarcerate suspects for indefinite periods of time without the benefit of due process? It was argued during the criminal administration of President George Bush that these people are not U.S. citizens and are therefore not eligible for the protections allegedly offered citizens. Is there some belief that perhaps U.S. citizens are somehow ‘better’ than those of other nations? Isn’t there something in the Declaration of Independence (remember that old thing?) that says “all men are created equal”?
And Mr. Thune seems to be misinformed about the possible disposition of those currently held at Guantanamo. No one, to this writer’s knowledge, has proposed freeing them to walk ‘the streets of America’s neighborhoods’.
Heaven forbid the U.S. crowd its jails with the likes of unindicted political prisoners who are acceptable for Cuban soil but not that of the U.S. No, let the U.S. jails house that higher class of criminal like Charles Manson, Jeffrey Dahmer and Dean Correll, all of whom were arrested, charged, tried and convicted of multiple heinous murders. The political prisoners in Guantanamo have only been arrested; for most, no charges are even pending.
Robert Mueller, the Director of the FBI, one arm of the U.S.’s secret police, warned darkly that bringing the prisoners in Guantanamo to the U.S., even housing them in maximum security prisons, posed potential threats to U.S. security. Said he: “The concerns we have about individuals who may support terrorism being in the United States run from concerns about providing financing, radicalizing others” and “the potential for individuals undertaking attacks in the United States.” It makes one wonder just what a maximum security prison accomplishes if such activities can freely take place within their barbed-wire covered walls.
Of the six senators who voted to close the dungeon, a few remarks are instructive.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., mentioned that no prisoners had ever escaped from the so-called ‘supermax’ prisons in the U.S. He further pointed out that there are over 300 people convicted of terrorist activities currently held in U.S. prisons. It might be best not to let Mr. Thune’s constituents become aware of that last fact.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R- SC, who supports the closure, said this: “The idea that we cannot find a place to securely house 250-plus detainees within the United States is not rational. We have done this before.” Indeed, at the end of 2007, over 2,000,000 people were incarcerated in U.S. prisons. Surely room could be found for 250 more.
With those two sensible statements, one wonders why the Senate voted in such lopsided numbers to deny the funding Mr. Obama sought to close a major symbol of U.S. imperialism and savage cruelty. Why do Mr. Thune and, apparently, many of his colleagues believe that incarcerating mass murderers in federal prisons in the ‘backyards’ of their constituents is fine, but jailing unindicted political prisoners there is not?
Perhaps we are seeing either a resurgence or the last vestiges of that old bugaboo, terrorism. We all know, because former Republican administration lackeys and presidential wannabes have told us, that terrorists “came here and killed us because of our freedom of religion, freedom for women, because they hate us,” as expressed so eloquently by former New York City mayor Rudi Giuliani during his disastrous run for the GOP presidential nomination. The mass murders, those mentioned above and countless others, often seemed to be nice people, neighbors, but just having a bad streak in them somehow. They, despite their heinous crimes, can be housed on U.S. soil. A boy of fifteen (now 22), who is thought to have thrown a grenade at soldiers who had invaded his country, overthrown his government and were now cruelly occupying his nation, must not set foot on U.S. soil. Oh, he hasn’t been charged with anything, and he’s been tortured for nearly seven years, but with a name like Omar Khadr he must be a terrorist. So there.
In their typical mealy-mouthed style, senate Democrats are saying that they just want to see Mr. Obama’s plan for the prisoners at Guantanamo. Too bad they weren’t so diligent in examining Mr. Bush’s plan for the invasion of Iraq. If they had been, perhaps the issues of Guantanamo would never have existed.
Fortunately, Mr. Obama seems determined to close Guantanamo in spite of the spineless Democratic majority. Democrat Ben Nelson of Nebraska predicted ultimate success. Said he: “The president’s very capable of putting together a plan that I think will win the approval of a majority of members of Congress. I can’t imagine that he won’t.”
But one can imagine that Congress, in their everlasting attempt to prove that they are ‘strong’ on whatever enemy the government has invented, will continue to block the closing of Guantanamo. Such mundane considerations as human rights, the Constitution or the U.S. reputation take second place to the rabid desire to achieve that lofty goal sought so diligently by nearly every politician in the U.S: reelection. Honor, duty and statesmanship have no place in the halls of Congress. That was a given during the Bush reign of terror and is now being continued under Mr. Obama.
On election night 2008, there were many comments about the mess then President-elect Obama was inheriting from his predecessor. It was thought that, with a Democratic Congress, the new president would be able to undo some of Mr. Bush’s worst travesties. Mr. Obama apparently inherited an unknown problem: the weakness of the Congress elected to support him. This may be his most challenging issue as president.
ROBERT FANTINA is author of ‘Desertion and the American Soldier: 1776–2006.