by R. Lee Wrights
The Guantanamo Bay detention camp in Cuba, perhaps better known by its nickname “Gitmo,” is an affront to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and the legacy of our national heritage. It should be closed now, and all the people detained there returned to the place where they were seized. In this I wholeheartedly endorse the view of my friend and fellow veteran R. J. Harris who says that Guantanamo is a stain on the U.S. and the U.S. military. Like R.J., I’m ashamed of our leadership for allowing it. The prison facility at Guantanamo Bay does more than just blur the line between the good guys and the bad guys; it erases the line entirely.
Those who fought to establish American freedom and independence were intimately familiar with a despotic government that rendered the military “independent of and superior to the Civil power,” which deprived people “of the benefits of Trial by Jury,” or which transported them “beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences.” That was one of the causes of the American Revolution.
Yet our modern-day leaders, Democrats and Republicans, perpetrate the despotic concept that the president has the right to seize people — even American citizens — anywhere in the world when he alone deems them a threat to our nation and to literally toss them in prison and throw away the key. What is even more disturbing is that President Obama, like his predecessor, is surrounded by legal sycophants who claim that by their distorted interpretation of the law “when the president does it, it is not illegal.”
Forget that this gulag is set on a military base built on land seized from another nation. Overlook the practice of denying detainees their basic rights. Ignore the accusations of torture and mistreatment. Even if you disregard all these things, the very fact that Gitmo exists is an insult to everything our Founding Fathers stood for, to everything millions of Americans have fought and died for throughout our history.
The Guantanamo prison violates every moral, legal and ethical standard America purports to proclaim to the world as examples to emulate. It’s the ultimate in hypocrisy for American officials and diplomats to lecture other nations on “human rights” and “democracy” when the United States incarcerates hundreds of people without providing any evidence of their guilt, without giving them legal counsel or even the facade of a fair trial.
Ironically, while the president’s political lawyers conjure up convoluted justifications for these illegal actions, some military lawyers have put their careers in jeopardy by speaking out against this miscarriage of justice. “Gitmo now takes its place among the world’s most notorious and evil prisons, right up there with Devil’s Island and the Siberian gulag,” said Donna Lorraine Barlett, an Army attorney for 27 years. She was assigned to defend a detainee held for nearly ten years, mostly in seclusion. Barlett took the job, even though she was about to retire, thinking she could bring attention to what she called the “the festering (but largely invisible) national wound that is Gitmo.”
Instead, she said she faced “an entrenched bureaucracy operating at a glacier’s pace, hamstrung by political infighting, red tape, and inefficiency. I can’t even send my client a letter without it being held up for weeks and, now, read by government officials who laughably, inexplicably, still assert some national security interest in our communications.”
Guantanamo is “an assault on constitutional government,” writes Army Maj. Todd E. Pierce in an article published on Law.com. Major Pierce is a 30-year veteran of active duty and reserve service. He volunteered to defend detainees because he was shocked by the legal theory underpinning Guantanamo and the military commissions, and by the notion that the president could ignore or disregard the Constitution and the Geneva Convention, which is part of U.S. law under that Constitution.
“Guantanamo and the military commissions are metastasizing into our whole legal system,” the major said. “We have used the vague and overbroad charge of ‘material support for terrorism’ as cause to investigate anti-war groups in Chicago and Minneapolis, predictably chilling speech and dissent.” He speculates that some critics suggest that the recently enacted National Defense Authorization Act would allow military detention of dissidents.
Before that happens, we must close the Guantanamo Bay prison camp. It is a disgrace and a blot on America. Gitmo brings upon America a shame as great as that which the federal government brought on us when it forced more than 100 thousand Americans into “relocation camps” during World War II merely because of their ancestry.
Some have said that they deplore the abuses committed at Guantanamo, yet assert that such a facility serves a function and must exist somewhere. But I say, the very fact that Gitmo exists at all is a disgrace to our nation and dishonors everything we stand for, every sacrifice made by every patriot for the cause of Liberty and Freedom.
The unalienable rights that are the birthright of every person must never be denied or restricted by any U.S. government action, regardless of the circumstances. The Constitution and the Bill of Rights are not optional rules to guide government, to be followed or ignored at will, nor are they burdens or hindrances during a crisis or in war. On the contrary, it is during times of greatest strain and stress, of greatest danger, that they are the most needed and of the greatest use.
R. Lee Wrights is a writer and political activist living in Texas. He is currently seeking the Libertarian Party presidential nomination. He is the co-founder and editor of the free speech online magazine Liberty For All. Contact Lee at firstname.lastname@example.org.