A Guantanamo gulag

Jan 30, 2002 at 12:00 am

You have to hand it to the Bushies. I didn’t think anybody could make the Taliban and Al Qaeda sympathetic figures, but our leaders have found a way to do it.

I can understand why we invaded Afghanistan and overthrew the Taliban, and to the anger of some readers of this column, I supported that. I have no use for religious fanatics, and find those of the modern Muslim variety especially repulsive.

Yet it totally escapes me why we had to bring more than 150 prisoners to our military base in Cuba. Has anyone in the so-called mainstream media asked what sense this makes?

Maybe we do have to detain some or all of these people. But … take them to Cuba? Not that we had a big empty prison there already. In fact, we had to build pens that seemed like those for animals to put them in, after which we gave our chicken-wire fort a name that might be one of the dumber Tom Swift books: Camp X-Ray.

Then we allowed them to be photographed chained and on their knees. Do we really need to work so hard to make them martyrs? Last superpower, indeed.

What is far worse is that our newest swaggering comic-opera despot, the recycled Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld, has arrogantly proclaimed that they are not POWs!

And the rest of the Cheney — oops — Bush administration is going along with his little touch of fascism. That last word is entirely appropriate. Not only do we not want to accord them their proper status, many or most in the administration, excepting, apparently, Colin Powell, don’t even want to give them their rights under the Geneva Convention.

Hey, we invaded their country and captured them in battle. Even an intelligent 6-year-old knows that makes them … POWs. But we seem to be determined to go the Nazis one better. The Shrub refuses to consider them POWs because we don’t like the way they fight, because they practice terror and target civilians.

Yes, they did. But guess what: During World War II, aka “The Good War,” the United States of America did exactly that. We didn’t kill 3,000 civilians, as on Sept. 11. We probably incinerated millions — even apart from the atom bombs.

We fried more than 100,000 in one night in Tokyo and perhaps as many in a single concentrated bombing in Dresden, Germany, both in 1945.

We did that deliberately, systematically — and at a point in the war when it was clear militarily that we were going to win. Late in the war, German civilians in the ruins of Berlin angrily killed a number of Allied pilots shot down over their burning cities.

When they could, the Nazi government intervened, and sent the fliers to POW camps. Yet we now seem to be less human. Sixty years ago, we sent German prisoners back to America during the war, and sought to win them over to democracy by treating them decently and letting them see how our system worked.

Now we shave our prisoners’ heads and beards, shackle and manacle them and take their water away if they protest.

Why? Dick Cheney’s answer was “they are the worst of a very bad lot.” The latest news flash says the bad lot seem to be plotting among themselves. Can’t imagine why. But I can imagine what may happen when some terrorist faction takes some American prisoner, as seems to have happened last week with a Wall Street Journal reporter.

Do we really have to be idiots so much of the time?

But not all Republicans are stupid, or even sure to do the wrong thing. Take Secretary of State Candice S. Miller, who without a whole lot of fanfare, has done something that, if her example is followed, will save the state millions of dollars.

Next time you drive by a Secretary of State’s office, look and you’ll likely see an immense blue-and-white sign with her name. Seven years ago, the signs all bore the name of Richard Austin, and they had to be changed at considerable expense to the taxpayers.

That wasn’t so bad in the old days, because Michigan secretaries of state tended to stay in office for eons. (We had only two between 1955 and 1995.) Now, with term limits, we get a new one at least every eight years.

Guess what? Miller stopped putting her name on the signs five years ago. Whenever a new sign is needed, it just says “Secretary of State.” Currently, according to her spokeswoman, Elizabeth Boyd, Miller’s people are looking for “the least expensive ways to alter the existing signs so her name can be removed from all.”

But that decision doesn’t bind Miller’s successor, who will take office next January. Let’s demand that all candidates pledge to follow her example and save us big bucks.

And you never knew I was a conservative, did you?

P.S.: How do you suppose the poor workmen felt who had to climb the Detroit Zoo water tower — in January — and paint “Kwame Kilpatrick” on it, blotting out, of course, “Dennis Archer”? The tower is in Royal Oak, and can’t even be seen in Detroit.

Maybe someday we’ll get a mayor with an ego so big he doesn’t need his name on a big empty metal can in the suburbs.

Worth taking in: This Saturday, the Detroit Area Peace Network is sponsoring a teach-in on international law, defending our civil liberties and the economic impact of the war, 9 a.m.-2 p.m. in the Life Science building at the University of Detroit Mercy’s McNichols campus. The cast will include noted professors and U.S. Rep. John Conyers.

This may be the war’s first local teach-in; I’ll bet it won’t be the last.

Jack Lessenberry opines weekly for Metro Times. E-mail [email protected]