As I mentioned in my first post, “First they came for the Communists” is a choice among several versions of Niemöller’s poem. It’s a choice with some baggage to it. There are some affiliations–let’s face it–that are difficult to defend. Make an effort, and you risk damaging your popularity, reputation, career, or what-have-you.
Back in 1914, the bogeyman of choice was “the Hun,” thanks to a nasty circa-1900 speech made by Kaiser Wilhelm that provided lots of material for Allied propaganda. By 1944, “Jerries,” “Krauts,” and “Japs,” were the faceless but malignant enemy. Less than five years later, “Commies” held the stage. We’ve weathered the Korean War, the Cold War, the Viet Cong and Saddam Hussein. Fast forward, and we’ve arrived at splintered factions of armed ideologues bent on creating as bloody of a splash as possible, preferably on international television. Designation: terrorists.
As words go, it’s not a bad choice. Neither vulgar, nor racist; and an accurate depiction of aims and means. A fair designation for criminal mayhem and murder.
Straight-up: I do not advocate for murderers. People wrongly convicted of murder, yes. People who commit cold-blooded killing, no–only the lawful due process that’s due everyone. Neither do I necessarily oppose the death penalty, when it’s fairly applied. I don’t have a problem with life sentences, also fairly applied. In other words, call me a bleeding-heart liberal if you want, but the liberals wouldn’t lay claim to me either.
Back to “terrorists.” Fair word, fair use. When it’s fairly used.
When it’s not, it’s a weapon all by itself. A black slash across someone’s name, and Heaven help the journalist, lawyer, or layman trying to erase it in the name of justice. Pardon my phrase, you get tarred with the same brush. You must be out of your mind to advocate for a terrorist.
I didn’t use to think I was out of my mind. There was a time when I’d rather other people didn’t think so either. Now I’m so angry, I don’t care.
Eighty-six people have been cleared, some for a long, long time, by government authorities of the United States, to be released from Guantanamo Bay. The decision has been stated: they are not threats. They are not a danger. Probably, they never were. At least fifty-five, or more, are still there.*
Of the last men left, some are considered not prosecutable, but “too dangerous” to release thanks to years of cruelty and mishandling; some are so-called “active cases” still grinding through a Sisyphian system;** too many have been cleared and told “you can go–but you can’t.” And of all these leftovers, the flotsam and jetsam of “enemy combatants” who never did get the rights of prisoners of war, too many have decided to die because there is no hope to hope for.
They went on hunger strike. They’ve done it again. They’ve attempted suicide. Again and again.
Now, the U.S. government says that they have no right to die. Not a right to a civil trial, not a right to be treated as POWs, not a right to protest by dying. They can be force-fed.***
If comments all over the Internet are any indication, that is just fine by a whole lot of people. Who cares what happens to terrorists? Didn’t they–well, whatever it was they did?
No. They didn’t. Some of them were cleared for release back when George Bush was president. If one reason had existed in the world not to clear them, believe me, that’s an administration that would have found the reason. Except there wasn’t one.
No protections of being war-prisoners. No civil trial. No open court. No release. A life sentence passed by default. No right to die. In only one court, the court of too great a segment of the public opinion, they are terrorists. Trial by insanity. God help us, what are we doing?
I remember the Cold War. More, I remember the time when Natan Sharansky was just newly freed from Soviet prisons–the stories of solitary confinement, cruelty, forced feeding–yes, the Soviet Union did that. And what an unspeakable thing we thought it was. Such a violation of basic human rights, human dignity, human decency.
I ask again, what are we doing? What have we come to?
Endless imprisonment, life by force, not even the right to die in protest. That’s as un-American as it gets.
*For an article by Josh Gerstein on fifty-five names of prisoners cleared for release, with a list of the names, click here and here.
**For the NBC news article on Judge Kessler’s decision, click here.
***For the Guantanamo Review Commission’s final report, click here.