Shame seems to be a driving force in American politics these days. The Europeans have managed to shame us into ending many of the secret deals on that continent that established sites for “extraordinary rendition,” defined as the incarceration and interrogation of unindicted, untried suspects in the “War on Terror.” (Unfortunately, CIA “black sites” and other rendition sites still exist on that continent, in Africa and North America, but progress has been made.)
But in some situations, it seems our leaders have no shame. I’ve been thinking for days about the words of the camp commander at Guantanamo Bay after the suicides of three detainees: Rear Admiral Harry Harris said of the dead prisoners, “They have no regard for life, either ours or their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation, but an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us.”
Captain James Yee, former chaplain for Muslim detainees, responded this way:
I think the suicides this past weekend really is an indication of the dire conditions that these individuals were suffering through.
When I was down there the conditions were already quickly deteriorating, and now they’re well into their fifth year of detention, in which they’re being held indefinitely without charges, without due process, with very limited access to their families, and restricted access to their attorneys.
Later, adding insult to injury, Colleen Graffy, the Deputy Assistant Secretary of State for Public Diplomacy(!), added her own comments, sounding as if she had been scripted by the same bad writer as Harris: “They don’t value their own life, and they certainly don’t value ours, and they use suicide bombings as a tactic to further their jihadi cause. There were means and methods for protestation, and certainly taking their own lives was not necessary. But it certainly is a good PR move to draw attention.”
Especially with her foot so far in her own mouth, it is hard to credit the speaker with actually knowing “a good PR move” when she sees one. So I thought I’d oblige. If there’s anyone in the administration who actually wishes the United States to be seen as a constructive force in the world, I offer that person this script, gratis, but I wrote it for President Bush:
Ladies and gentlemen of the press:
I have been up all night asking myself how my colleagues and I could ever have fallen so far from bedrock moral principles. I am deeply ashamed that it has taken the suicide of three young men to begin awakening my own conscience. I think it will take a long time to repair the damage we have done to our country and our own souls, but first and foremost, I am thinking of the arrogance that has allowed us to set ourselves above laws of both God and man, imprisoning so many with no regard to evidence or indictment, torturing so many, leaving so many without hope of rescue from a hell on earth of our own making.
There is too much blood on our hands. Like many Americans, I fear those who may attack us at any moment, who seem so strongly convinced of their own distorted ideology that our lives are used to make points in their argument with the west. But I had not realized until these three men took their own lives that we had fallen into the same error.
The detention center at Guantanamo Bay will be closed within sixty days, as soon as prisoners can be evacuated. Transport of existing prisoners will begin immediately. Those subject to existing national or international laws will be turned over to the authorities with proper jurisdiction; those detained without adequate evidence for prosecution (I am appalled and ashamed to think how many) will be released to their countries of origin. All relevant files will be turned over to the International Criminal Court. I have made it my personal commitment to work for U.S. ratification of the statute authorizing the ICC, a small step toward bringing our nation back into the world family as a respected member.
Years ago, I was born again in spirit, saving myself from a purposeless life of dissolution. Last night, I realized that I could be born again in justice and mercy. I pledge to use the remainder of my administration to heal the shame I have brought to this beloved country.
In a moral society, even the unquestionably guilty are treated as human beings. Please read this BBC interview with a Guantanamo detainee to get a glimpse of conditions there. It may be difficult to imagine President Bush reciting the script that would change them, but please join me in trying. Seeing what we want can only help to bring it about.