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Saturday, January 24, 2009


"Closing" Guantanamo

Barack Obama has issued an order to close the U.S. prison at Guantanamo (not, needless to say, the equally egregious 50-year occupation of Guantanamo itself). The press treatment has been interesting. I've seen headlines reading "Closed!" as if it were already closed, and on CNN an anchor referred to the "imminent" closing of Guantanamo. Really? I don't have children, but if I had a young child precocious enough to understand the meaning of the word "imminent," I'm pretty sure if I promised to deliver a great present "imminently," I'd have a temper tantrum on my hands if a week went by before I forked it over, much less a year.

But what's being overlooked is what's happening. True, one prison is being closed. But the prisoners will, for the most part, either be transferred to other U.S. prisons, or sent to other countries where they'll stay in prison. And meanwhile, in Iraq and Afghanistan (just as in Israel), tens of thousands of people languish in prisons without convictions or even charges, just like the ones in Guantanamo who have become such a cause celebre.

And torture? Yes, the chances are the U.S. will truly be doing away with the most outrageous forms of physical torture, like waterboarding. After all, we're told it's both ineffective and ruining the reputation of the U.S. Two guesses what would be happening if it were considered effective.

But so what? I've never been a prisoner, and never been tortured (if you don't count having to put up with eight years of George Bush), but I have to imagine that as bad or worse than any physical torture is the mental torture of indefinite confinement. Being locked up without charges, without any kind of legal recourse, for years on end - that's torture. It's no accident there have been multiple suicides at Guantanamo, and likely many more at other prisons around the world we don't know about.

Make no mistake about it - proclamation or no, torture of people imprisoned by the U.S. will continue. Because while Obama did issue a call for "legal" interrogations, the underlying policy of imprisoning people without charges remains unchanged.

Perhaps I shouldn't complain, though. Because the policy of murdering people using bombs dropped from drones, people who also haven't been charged with any crime (and, often, haven't even been identified), also remains unchanged.

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