Postcards from Tradocia

gitmo goofiness

Lileks and Mark Steyn both write about the absurdity of the latest “torture” news from that “gulag of our time,” Guantanamo Bay:

Lileks:

And at one point the reader might assume that if something really bad had happened, we might have read about it by now. I know a little bit about modern journalism, and we tend to emphasis the splintery plunger up the butt over the mocking puppet show. In any case, this detail makes you almost want to weep in frustration; domestic politicians are posturing for the camera, huffing about then horrors of Gitmo, insisting that the rest of the world won

6 Comments

  1. Seth

    Alex,
    Your quotes from Lileks and Steyn are sensible, for the most part, but what makes them somewhat different from most everything else coming out of the right and the administration these days is that Lileks and Steyn are not here playing the moral equivalence card. Human rights violations of prisoners and non-prisoners alike is a discussion we should always be having, about our country and others. The human rights of prisoners are not irrelevant, even if the are “bad people”, as Cheney calls them, or compared to a “gulag” by Amnesty International.

    I recognize, at the same time,that the rights of prisoners is not a popular position to hold in this day and age.

    When the light shines on us as a country, it seems to me to speak more to the quality of freedom we are trying to preserve rather than some sort of threat or signal to the enemy. So the discussion is one we should be having, not because we do it less or more than anyone else, but that we do it at all is able to reach the light of day in the public, here or anywhere. That, also, is a deep and profound element of our freedom in America, the loss of which is as much a threat as any enemy that could do us harm.

    The common ground is that both sides take their position as an example of the preservation of freedom. The gulf you perceive in the discussion is also idiomatic of the fractured, broken, nonfunctional state of our democracy these days. Is this not the same state of every other discussion we try to have in our country now?

    Just some thoughts,
    Seth

  2. Delobius

    I would argue that it’s not our democracy that’s fractured and nonfunctional these days, but rather many of the intellects that inhabit it.

    I agree that an open and public discussion of freedom, treatment of prisoners, and human rights is an important element of democracy in America; the fact that we can have groups like AI call the US “the world’s worst violator of human rights” and of course the “gulag” reference without being summarily executed is testimony to the openness of our society.

    However, the discussion of issues like Gitmo and the Abu Ghraib situation before it has transcended the realm of transparent democracy in action. The media and various commentators are not treating the allegations of Quran abuse and other “terrors” of Gitmo with a dispassionate desire to report the facts, but rather a desire to…well, to do something that I can’t quite figure.

    Let me be clear: investigations of wrongdoing are a good thing and when wrongdoing – true wrongdoing, like sodomizing prisoners with chemlights or other such sophomoric techniques – is discovered, the guilty parties should be punished. However, things like having dogs bark at prisoners, sleep deprivation (welcome to the Army!), and throwing water seem perfectly legitimate to me. These people are prisoners who, while they deserve protection from undue harm, are not immune from standard tactics of intimidation and interrogation. They are enemy combatants, not prisoners of war, which also means they are afforded fewer protections under the (hopelessly-outdated) Geneva Conventions.

    Thanks for your thoughtful comment, Seth – it seems rare nowadays to be able to have a civilized discussion about such charged topics.

  3. Seth

    Thanks Alex!
    I am unclear as to what the goal, if any, is behind the Newsweek and Time and other media reporting on these issues. I suspect that is merely an effort to land the most sensational story they can. I find the whole media bias issue highly suspect. Money, power and fame transcend politics in the entertainment industry, and I would say the lines are no longer clear where news ends and entertainment begins.

    Thank you for clarifying your point regarding prisoners. I guess my feeling is that, rather than ditching Geneva Conventions, which may or may not be outdated, why not upgrade them? By circumventing them, the administration (not just this admin – any of them) will automatically descend to the lowest common denominator with regard to how it deals with “enemy combatants” or POWs. I feel that the workaround is semantically disingenuous. There is plenty to show that we are using torture in other countries to get information from these people. Torture has been shown time and again to be purely punitive and useless to garner useful information.

    At the same time, I agree that the standard intimidation practices may have their place, but without clear guidelines, like the Geneva Convention, there are no guidelines. It would be one thing if they were working on that on an international level, but we aren’t, and nor is anyone else.

    With regard to the intellects and democracy, I don’t know…Neither Bill O’Reilly nor Al Franken would qualify as intellects in my opinion. The true intellects are the background policy-makers who influence the direction of discussion – the neo-con/liberal pac groups, corporate lobbyists and speechwriters. People with money and access.

    The brokeness I perceive relates to the fact that our last couple elections split almost 50/50. The issues were at the extremes on both sides, which means, rather than gaining consensus and compromise as a functioning democracy would, we instead voted on a contest of wills. The 50/50 split leads me to the following consideration: there are 3 options available in this situation – 1)both sides are right (almost never true), 2)one side is right and the other wrong (unlikely in a 50/50 split), or 3)both sides are wrong. I am opting for the last option. In other words, the whole foundation of the discussion, whether it is Gitmo and Abu Ghraib, the war in Iraq, abortion, Terri Schiavo or judicial nominees, needs to shift, since it is clear the present foundation does not lead to consensus in the population.

    Anyway, thanks for the discussion. Sorry this is so long, but it is better than work…
    Forty-four forty,
    Seth

  4. MrsMelobi

    I love reading your discussions. You two are about the only people I know that read columnists on both sides of issues you care about. And will shut up long enough to listen to someone else. And are equally as verbose.

    It’s what gives me hope that this politically mismatched pair of you and I can thrive on our differences.

  5. Delobius

    Yes dear, but Seth doesn’t have a degree in women’s studies! ;)

    Back to verbosity –

    I agree with your statements about the 50/50 split at election time showing that it’s a contest of wills instead of an exercise in consensus-building. I feel like the monolithic 2-party all-or-nothing system is flawed and nobody’s really getting served properly by it, but I don’t know what the alternative is. The super-factionated (is that a word?) proportional representation system like Germany’s seems good on paper, but it seems to me that’s a recipe for either extreme Balkanization leading to gridlock or weird alliances of convenience between small, otherwise non-viable groups to seize power.

    I also agree that a new equivalent of the Geneva Conventions needs to be developed that takes into account the political and technological realities of modern war, but this cannot and will not happen until the corrupt and bizarre UN is reformed or replaced. There’s a reason why the US didn’t sign on for the International Criminal Court – I can guarantee that there would be US soldiers (if not Rumsfeld and Chimpy McBushitler themselves) on trial for “war crimes” if we had.

    Ultimately, I just wonder if any large accumulation of humans simply becomes collectively stupider and stupider by way of inertia and compromise, such that something like the “Republicans” or “Democrats” can’t possibly encompass all (or even any reasonable fraction) of the diverse views of their membership, and you’re left with an unsatisfying murky blob that does nothing for anyone.

  6. Seth

    Alex,
    I would have to agree with what you say in response. I have no answers either, and find it is often easier to be angry at everything, especially the idiots I voted for and against…which reminds me of a Mark Twain quote: “If I were an idiot and I were in Congress…I am sorry, I am repeating myself.”

    I even agree with you about the Intl Criminal Court. It is an egregious violation of national sovereignty (sp?).

    The only thing I would say is that, if we lived in a situation like Germany’s, all the animals would have the same rights as us, since a few years ago, they extended their constitution to include all animals. Now why in the world aren’t our people in Washington working on something like that, for crying out loud?

    I can’t tell if dumbness and stupidness are the result of 2 parties descending into idiocy or the result of the accumulation of too many humans occupying too little space while watching too much tv.

    Mrs. Delobius,
    Thank you for your complimentary note. But I am not sure if verbosity is a compliment or not…it may be more like a disease, like chronic colitis or delusional schizophrenia.

    Peace!
    Seth

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