It’s not about whether terrorists should rot

By Steve Brawner
© 2015 by Steve Brawner Communications, Inc.

“In my opinion the only problem with Guantanamo Bay is there are too many empty beds and cells there right now. We should be sending more terrorists there for further interrogation to keep this country safe. As far as I’m concerned every last one of them can rot in hell, but as long as they don’t do that then they can rot in Guantanamo Bay.”

That’s what U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton said Feb. 5 during a hearing of the Senate Armed Forces Committee. He got a lot of attention because of that.

Let’s start by pointing out that Cotton, a decorated war veteran who volunteered for duty, has a perspective that those like me who stayed safely at home cannot have.

That said, the issue is not if confirmed terrorists should rot, but where detainees should be held. And it should not be in the government’s little corner of Castro’s island.

According to the New York Times, 780 detainees have been sent to the Guantanamo Bay prison since it opened in 2002. Of those, 122 are still there, 649 have been transferred, and nine have died on the island.

Most of those remaining probably are terrorists, but how do we know? Because the government has told us they are? That’s not the way America is supposed to work.

In America, we’re supposed to be skeptical of the government, but that’s hard to put into practice at Guantanamo Bay because it lacks some of the checks on the government’s power that exist elsewhere – juries, journalists, churches, human rights activists, etc. There has been little that anyone outside of the government could do when the detainees have been sent there – or when they have been sent elsewhere. If President Obama says it’s worth the risk to send them back home, well, should we trust that’s so?

The nation’s founding document, the Declaration of Independence, states, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

Did you catch that? Our rights aren’t granted by the government, and we don’t have rights because we are Americans. We have rights because we were created. All men are created.

We have to respect that. American citizens can’t just blindly trust the government when it says that every detainee is a terrorist, and it can do with them as it wishes for decades without any oversight by anyone else. If we accept that, then we could be next.

We’ve seen the best of America since the attacks of Sept. 11, including acts of heroism and sacrifice such as those performed by Cotton.

But those attacks also have brought out the less-than-best of America. Osama bin Laden not only succeeded in killing 3,000 people, but he also convinced us to change our way of life and sometimes to ignore our founding principles, all based on fear.

Guantanamo Bay has hurt the country’s standing in the world, which is why the president called it “a propaganda tool for our enemies and a distraction for our allies.” And by “president,” I mean President George W. Bush, who wrote that comment in his autobiography. He wanted to close the prison and send many of the detainees back to their own countries. “Cold-blooded killers,” on the other hand, should be tried in U.S. courts, he said while in office.

Yes, in U.S. courts, or at least in some kind of legitimate process allowing Americans to keep an eye on the government. First, because it needs to be determined one-by-one that the accused actually are cold-blooded killers. And second, because the nation’s principles include not only the pursuit of happiness but also the pursuit of justice. All men are created equal and endowed with certain unalienable rights, and all men should face the consequences of their actions.

6 thoughts on “It’s not about whether terrorists should rot

  1. Bush’s illegal and immoral torture program is at the bottom of this. We’ve tortured many or most of these people and can’t afford for them to tell their tales to the world. We’ve painted ourselves into a corner. This is a blot on America’s integrity. Unfortunately, a majority of Americans don’t get it, don’t believe it, or don’t care.

  2. I think you’re right, Sandy, about all of it. I just don’t think people have thought about it deeply. Cotton’s poll numbers no doubt went up, because it’s a lot easier to make a “rot in hell” comment than it is to consider what this says about America’s founding principles.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *