In the Thirties through the Nineties, gulags, or labor camps in the former Soviet Union, were established to house common criminals, corrupt officials, "counterrevolutionaries," and occasionally the victims of arbitrary mass arrests of ordinary citizens.
At the start of the Twenty-First Century, the government of the United States of America set up a number of camps around the world (including one in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba) to house people they had identified as "terrorists." None of people locked up in these camps was ever convicted by a court of law. Many of the prisoners (possibly a majority of them) were locked away, not because they had committed any crime, but because they were sold to the Americans by someone who hated them.
That last link is a .pdf document, by the way. If you have a problem with those, it's a report by a lawyer, a Seton Hall professor and a bunch of student aides, entitled "REPORT ON GUANTANAMO DETAINEES - A Profile of 517 Detainees through Analysis of Department of Defense Data." The important part of the text, in this case, reads as follows:
Only 5% of the detainees were captured by United States forces. 86% of the detainees were arrested by either Pakistan or the Northern Alliance and turned over to United States custody. This 86% of the detainees captured by Pakistan or the Northern Alliance were handed over to the United States at a time in which the United States offered large bounties for capture of suspected enemies.I'll leave you to do the math for yourself. Or actually read the report - it's only 28 pages long, and a fascinating look at the "evidence" used to incarcerate our Guantanamo residents. Enjoy.
But now, because the comparisons to fascist regimes don't go far enough yet, the White House wants us to pass laws that would allow them to torture prisoners.
Stephen Colbert explained it as follows (and I'm going from memory here, so I'm not even going to try to quote him): One - torture is against the law. Two - the United States is a country of laws. So, three - we have to change the law.
One fascinating group that has come out in favor of torture is the Traditional Values Coalition. Their leader, Rev. Louis P. Sheldon, told Senator John McCain that, if he continued to oppose the torture of prisoners, he could wave goodbye to the conservative evangelical community. I have to say, this confuses me. I thought the conservative evangelical community went to see The Passion of the Christ because it showed them how much Jesus suffered for them, not because it was a primer for the treatment of prisoners. Obviously, I was mistaken.
I have only one question for Reverend Sheldon. And I urge everyone arguing against torture to take it up as their mantra. "What would Jesus think?" Consider how He died, Reverend. You claim to be hoping for His return. So what's He going to say to you for joining with the Pharisees?
McCain, along with Senators Lindsay Graham and Senator John Warner, are a trio of Republicans with the courage, or perhaps just the humanity and common decency, to have come out against torture.
What is wrong with America when you can make headlines for coming out against torture? Shouldn't the 24-point font and the exclamation marks be directed against people in favor of torture? What sort of twisted, perverted view of America are we living in, where the acceptance of torture is the norm, and opposition to it is newsworthy?
However, even McCain, who was himself tortured in Vietnam, eventually backed down and compromised with the President. Of course, this agreement, as far as some people can tell, is that the Republicans will pretend that nobody is being tortured. So I'm not sure this is a victory for the forces of righteousness after all.
Bush actually went out in public and tried to justify himself:
In its ruling on military commissions, the Court determined that a provision of the Geneva Conventions known as "Common Article Three" applies to our war with al Qaeda. This article includes provisions that prohibit "outrages upon personal dignity" and "humiliating and degrading treatment." The problem is that these and other provisions of Common Article Three are vague and undefined, and each could be interpreted in different ways by American or foreign judges.And that statement is so disingenuous that it makes your head spin.
How is it that the people who have no problem identifying pornography - an equally "vague and undefined" concept - are having such a hard time with the concept of torture?
I want to be very clear on one thing. Whether showing pictures of a prisoner in his cell is "humiliating and degrading" or an "outrage on personal dignity" can be argued. However, some things are, without question, illegal, immoral and qualify as torture. Waterboarding, beating with sticks, cattle prods, hanging from walls - these are torture.
Forced public nudity, forced masturbation, items shoved into prisoner's rectums, and most of the other things we all got to see in the sadomasochistic, oddly homoerotic Abu Ghraib photos - these are not only torture, they're also the mark of sexual deviance. And again, I'm having a hard time figuring out how the conservative evangelicals can fit these ideas into their concept of "traditional values."
So let's make a deal. I want President Bush to tell me what methods of "aggressive questioning" are allowed. And then I want him to submit to them, for as long as I'm willing to continue to administer them.
Because I have some questions I want answered, too.