The Parallax Brief


Unrepentant Subjectivity on Economics, Politics, Defence, Foreign Policy, and Russia

Why is Closing Guantanamo Bay so Difficult?

guantanamo1It is clear to me that extra-judicial captivity has no place in a civilized society. What makes us better than the despots and the terrorists is our moral code, and when we forgo that, there really isn’t much between us and the bad guys.

No doubt those on the lunatic fringes of the Right would accuse me of ‘moral relativism’, or else some other barely understood buzz-phrase. 

On this point, I would argue that the west’s (or,  if you prefer, the liberal democracies’) way of doing things is better not because we’re ‘us’ and they’re ‘them’, but because of our actions. Britain’s system of government isn’t better than, say, Iran’s just because Britain’s Britain: It is better because it offers democracy, free speech, enshrines the rule of law, etc, etc. If suddenly Britain converted to a dictatorship, repealed democracy, and crushed any dissenting voices, then we couldn’t claim to be better than Iran.

Similarly, I don’t think we can hold people in prison indefinitely, denying them their basic human rights in the process, without sacrificing some moral capital.

It certainly makes one feel less like a sandal wearing, feeble voiced peacenik to say: “Do you think you can play nice with these people?”, or “We need to fight at their level,” but it’s worth considering whether we really want to do anything on “their level.”

On that score, it should be obvious to most sane observers, that Guantanamo is an example of a moral repugnance I’d have scarcely considered possible before the neo-con kabal of moral degenerates and criminals seized the White House

However, GTMO is not only a violation of every ideal we in the West hold dear, it also has another, quite pernicious side effect. Once an individual is taken out of the judicial system, it is virtually impossible to put him back in, and all evidence acquired under torture – or advanced interrogation techniques – will be inadmissible. This means that we can never establish properly who is guilty and who is not, who did what and where, and the victims of these terrible crimes will never have the comfort of knowing justice has been done.

But, there is a final knot left to untie: GTMO is also extremely difficult to close. If one cannot put an individual back in the justice system to be tried and/or imprisoned, and one cannot release him for suspicion he may be a danger, how can one close it?

This is a question addressed far more effectively by the Financial Times’ Willem Buiter, so I thought I’d share.

It’s also one that Barak Obama is going to have to deal with more decisively when January 20th comes around. Good luck with that.

Filed under: Defence, Foreign policy, , , , ,

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