The mean-spirited attitude of Republican politicians over repatriating Guantanamo’s remaining 241 inmates in the U.S. reflects both their irrational fears and loss of moral compass. House GOP leaders have introduced a “Keep Terrorists Out of America Act” that would give governors’ veto power to stop the transfer or release of detainees in their state. The same governors that never question the building of atomic bombs, napalm, biological, and other banned U.S. terror weapons in their jurisdictions can be expected to make hypocritical political hay out of this issue.
“Our constituents don’t want these terrorists in their neighborhoods,” House Minority Leader John Boehner told reporters, according to the May 8th Miami Herald. This echoes author Christopher Orlet who wrote in The American Spectator “the roughly 650 prisoners that have gone through Guantanamo Bay…are terrorists and terrorist allies.” How Orlet knows this when they did not get a true American jury trial, and when men have been tortured into signing confessions, is an intriguing question.
This debate is not helped by a wide disagreement over the facts. Are any of the Guantanamo captives, in fact, terrorists? Lawrence Wilkerson, a Republican who served as chief of staff to then Secretary of State Colin Powell, told the Associated Press, “There are still innocent people there. Some have been there six or seven years.” Apparently, some are and some are not. Attorney General Eric Holder says some captives will be released and others will be held.
By continuing to hold any prisoners year after year without trial, Holder only perpetuates the Bush regime’s injustice. In case after case evidence has emerged that many innocent men condemned to Guantanamo were turned in by bounty hunters to collect $5,000 from Uncle Sam. In the Alice-in-Wonderland world of U.S. “justice,” untried and uncharged prisoners have been subjected to inhuman punishments calculated to break them mentally and physically.
Kate Allen, director of UK’s Amnesty International, told BBC Guantanamo is “a travesty of justice” and that 80% of its captives are held in “cruel conditions of isolation,” forced to live in constantly illuminated cells with no natural light or fresh air and not allowed to speak to other prisoners.
Some men have endured this kind of solitary confinement for as long as seven years, and for them the end is not in sight. Now Republican officials are doing their level best not to show the slightest glimmer of mercy to these captives.
How America has grown more fearful and intolerant since World War II, when it took in 425,000 German prisoners of war, many of them dedicated Nazis from General Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps that surrendered to Eisenhower’s forces in April, 1943! The treatment the Germans received in the United States then was the precise opposite of what Muslim and Arab captives have suffered under the Bush administration.
Instead of being put in solitary confinement and tortured, they were treated humanely in camps that typically held 3,000 to 4,000 prisoners. Instead of “super-max prisons such as Guantanamo they were often housed in unused CCC or army barracks. They weren’t denied fresh air and sunshine and were allowed to speak to other prisoners. They were allowed to publish their own newspapers, play sports, stage theatricals, and were given writing materials. And their food was the same as the GI’s dined on, meaning it typically was far better than German army rations.
Nearly all the German soldiers were allowed to work in nearby communities, particularly on farms, and they chopped cotton, picked fruit, worked as cooks and kitchen helpers, performed janitorial duties, and toted bricks on construction sites, including for the Tennessee Valley Authority. From Alabama to Colorado and from Texas to Indiana, hundreds of thousands of Nazi troops were made to feel welcome in America and, as a result, they showed their appreciation by making a major contribution to the American war effort against Hitler. Some pleaded to remain here when the war ended.
By treating the prisoners in what then was regarded as “a Christian manner” the net outcome was to open their eyes to the lies Hitler told them about American democracy and Americans. They saw first-hand the kindness and generosity of the American people and they appreciated the even-handed treatment of their military captors.
What a change has taken place in a nation that once showed mercy and kindness to nearly a half million prisoners of war to a country that today won’t open its doors to 241 prisoners, the majority of whom may well be innocent, men who have been illegally transported from their own countries, denied due process of law, tortured and psychologically abused, some for years.
Instead of trying to terrify the public about these alleged “terrorists,” Republican politicians should be out front clamoring for an opportunity to show some spark of — dare we say it –“Christian compassion”? If Republican governors won’t take the Guantanamo prisoners in, President Obama might consider building housing for them on the mall in Washington, D.C., in the shadow of those beautiful buildings and memorials filled with historic documents of liberty and justice. If we can’t do that for those we have tortured and abused, those documents will be utterly worthless.
Sherwood Ross is a veteran reporter and public relations consultant. He formerly worked for the City News Bureau of Chicago, the Chicago Daily News, and as a columnist for wire firstname.lastname@example.org