ashland.news
June 13, 2024

Relocations: We still hold 30 men at Guantanamo

Guantanamo
Photo from La Città Futura
January 26, 2024

Characteristically, our country has moved on; they can’t

By Herbert Rothschild

Jan. 11 marked 22 years since the U.S. brought the first prisoners to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. In all, 780 men were kept there, all under shameful conditions, and many were tortured, some repeatedly. Today, 30 remain.

Ashland.news-Secretary-Herbert-Rothschild
Herbert Rothschild

In 22 years, only one of the detainees was tried and convicted. Ten more are still facing trial. Three have neither been charged nor cleared for release. Sixteen have been cleared for release but remain incarcerated.

One of those 16 is Sharqawi Al Hajj, who has been imprisoned 20 years. He’s represented legally by Pardiss Kebriaei, a senior attorney for the Center for Constitutional Rights. Several years before Deborah and I moved here, we heard Kebriaei speak when the Houston Peace and Justice Center honored the CCR at its annual awards dinner. On Jan. 11, the Guardian published a piece she wrote about Sharqawi and the 22nd anniversary of Guantanamo. It was a shock to realize that she’s been working for so long and still without success for Sharqawi’s release. I fault myself for not keeping more in mind him and all the other victims of our nation’s overseas predations.

In “The Great Gatsby,” the narrator, Nick Carraway, pronounces a final judgment on his glamorous cousin Daisy and her enormously wealthy husband: “They were careless people, Tom and Daisy — they smashed up things and creatures and then retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness, or whatever it was that kept them together, and let other people clean up the mess they had made.” So it is with the U.S.: Vietnam, Cambodia, Iraq, Afghanistan, Libya — the list goes on.

Historical memory is a burden that few of us wish to carry. And perhaps there is something unique about this country that promotes erasure. Our geographical frontier closed at the end of the 19th century, but Frederick Jackson Turner may have been correct that the American character was permanently formed by the westward movement. No matter what happens, we are encouraged to “move on” with our lives, “make a fresh start.”

As president, Barack Obama inherited from George W. Bush a financial meltdown, a foreign policy debacle, and moral scandals associated with both. He dealt with the first by bailing out Wall Street and, with the Federal Reserve, putting the financial system back together in the same form with the same power and only modestly more regulation. He dealt with the second by making fitful efforts to achieve whatever success could possibly mean in Iraq and Afghanistan, but which in effect meant allowing both wars to drag on with no end in sight.

Obama didn’t deal at all with the moral scandals. There were no criminal prosecutions of the financial moguls whose greedy and reckless behavior cost many people their life savings and nearly threw our country into another Great Depression. As for the people who approved and those who conducted the torture of the Guantanamo detainees, they were never charged.

Obama’s motive for giving a pass to the executives of Goldman Sachs, Chase Morgan, CitiBank and other Wall Street powerhouses probably was his indebtedness to them for their early support of his presidential candidacy, plus the influence of his chief financial advisors, Larry Summers and Timothy Geithner. But his motive for giving the torturers a pass could only have been the sense that the country should move on. He was wrong.

He was wrong morally. When there is no public accountability for gross public transgression, it erodes public conviction that such behavior is intolerable. It would be too simple to suggest that the complacency with which so many Americans now view Donald Trump’s criminality originated with Obama’s failure to hold Bush, his Vice President Dick Cheney and the others to account. Still, it would have helped enormously had Obama, by prosecuting them, declared that no one, including a sitting president, is above the law.

And he was wrong politically. Perhaps he believed what he had said at the 2004 Democratic National Convention about there being no red states or blues states, only the United States. Once in the White House, though, he should have realized that Republicans didn’t share his commitment to bipartisanship. It’s not in fact true that Sen. Mitch McConnell said on Day One that his first priority was to make Obama a one-term president — he said that on the eve of the midterm elections in 2010 — but Republicans made it abundantly clear that they would do anything to regain power, including circulating egregious lies about the Affordable Care Act. Had Obama put his predecessors on trial for torture, during his first year Republicans would have been on the defensive both politically and morally, and the midterm elections might not have been a debacle for Democrats.

Bill Wilson is one of the unsung heroes of our country. Alcoholics Anonymous has saved millions of lives. The 12 Steps are a repository of practical wisdom, useful well beyond the community of recovering addicts. Step 4 reads, “Made a searching and fearless moral inventory of ourselves.” Step 5 reads, “Admitted to God, to ourselves, and to another human being the exact nature of our wrongs.” I suggest that the U.S. cannot begin to recover from its addiction to power until it makes such an inventory and such a confession.

Herbert Rothschild’s columns appear on Friday in Ashland.news. Opinions expressed in them represent the author’s views and may or may not reflect those of Ashland.news. Email Rothschild at herbertrothschild6839@gmail.com.

Picture of Jim

Jim


Related Posts...

Relocations: A long overdue reckoning with the horror of Indian boarding schools  

Herbert Rothschild: Brig. Gen. Richard Henry Pratt, who founded and then ran the Carlisle Indian Industrial School in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, stated that the ethos of Indian Boarding School Policies was to “kill the Indian in him, and save the man.” In fact, the process often killed both. Thousands of children who were forced into Indian boarding schools were never heard from again.

Read More »

Latest posts

Poetry Corner: Haiku, please

Poetry Corner: It’s haiku and beyond, proving once again, if proof were needed, that Ashland, Oregon, is the nursery of poets. Elaine Maveety and Jim Flint find beauty in subjects from the natural world to Burma Shave, and each has its own particular poetic charm.

Read More >

‘Pride and joy in my heart’: SOU ceremony celebrates Juneteenth

On the warm bright morning of Tuesday, June 11, around 50 people gathered on the lawn by Churchill Hall at Southern Oregon University for a Juneteenth celebration. The celebration of Juneteenth occurs because emancipation was not enforced in states held by the Confederacy until more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863.

Read More >

President Bailey leads SOU contingent to American Samoa

More than 100 students from American Samoa have enrolled at SOU over the past four years. The SOU trip is a part of the university’s annual efforts to show up for students and their families, and provide an in-person orientation for new students as they gear up for their first term at the Ashland campus.

Read More >

Explore More...

Poetry Corner: Haiku, please

Poetry Corner: It’s haiku and beyond, proving once again, if proof were needed, that Ashland, Oregon, is the nursery of poets. Elaine Maveety and Jim Flint find beauty in subjects from the natural world to Burma Shave, and each has its own particular poetic charm.

Read More>

‘Pride and joy in my heart’: SOU ceremony celebrates Juneteenth

On the warm bright morning of Tuesday, June 11, around 50 people gathered on the lawn by Churchill Hall at Southern Oregon University for a Juneteenth celebration. The celebration of Juneteenth occurs because emancipation was not enforced in states held by the Confederacy until more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation on Jan. 1, 1863.

Read More>
ashland.news logo

Subscribe to the newsletter and get local news sent directly to your inbox.

(It’s free)

Don't Miss Our Top Stories

Get our newsletter delivered to your inbox three times a week.
It’s FREE and you can cancel anytime.