25 January 2009

Obama and Guantánamo

Last week, President Obama signed an executive order to close the Guantánamo Bay detention facility within a year, a quick move signaling that the United States would once again respect human rights concerning the war on terror. While reading "Issue of terrorists' rights to test Obama's pledge" I came across this interesting quotation from John Boehner (R-OH), House GOP leader:

"The Guantánamo Bay prison is filled with the worst of the worst -- terrorists and killers bent on murdering Americans and other friends of freedom around the world. If it is closed, where will they go, will they be brought to the United States and how will they be secured?"

Rep. Boehner is either a remarkably uninformed member of Congress or he is knowlingly lying through his teeth. Of the 775 prisoners who have been held at Guantánamo over the past 7+ years, 420 have been released without charge. Of the roughly 270 currently held, "50 to 70" have been cleared for release, but cannot be returned to their home country for fear of punishment (Reynolds). Clearly, Gitmo is not "filled with the worst of the worst" and it would be refreshing if Republican leaders would stop parroting Rumsfeld's tired lie.

In spite of this, Boehner does raise an important point: where do the freed prisoners go? I feel Obama's executive order is lacking in this area. The United States continues to deny any innocent detainees settlement in the United States. How can we expect our allies around the world to help with this process if we do not take some of them as well? What is wrong with taking seventeen Uighurs, a nomadic people from Western China, who ended up in Guantánamo because they were sold for bounty by Pakistanis (Mariner)? They have been cleared for release for nearly five years but remain in Gitmo because they cannot be safely returned to China and no one else, including the U.S., will take them in. The case of the Uighurs, and many others like them, is an injustice and a human rights violation.

Also, Obama's order does not end the military commissions that conduct the trials of the charged detainees in a manner that denies them due process, but instead calls for a study into the feasibility of moving the trials to the federal system. In seven years of operation, only three people have been convicted by the military commissions at Guantánamo: David Hicks, an Australian who joined the Taliban; Salim Hamdan, Bin Laden's driver; and Ali al-Bahlul, who made a video. All in all, these are three very low-ranking, low risk terrorists. On the other hand, you have the infamous Zacarias Moussaoui, one of the designers of 9/11, and Richard Reid, the "shoe-bomber". Both were convicted in Federal courts, not Guantánamo (Sullivan).

I was glad to see that Obama quickly followed through on his campaign promise to close Guantánamo, but his order was incomplete. Obama's declaration of last week was a good first step, but there is still further to go if the United States is going to take its place once again as a champion of human rights and justice in the world.


Clint K. said...

Good post Chris. It will be interesting to see what happens to the detainees. Especially Moussaui. Quick question, what is your reaction to Obama repealing the Mexico City Policy? Whether or not money allocated to other countries actually goes toward abortion, I do think it is significant for Obama to do it quietly after the anniversary of Roe vs. Wade and his inauguration.

In this case, I would say the abortion issue is now not neutral. Obama's actions (at least publicly) lead me to think he is making a statement: He wants less restrictions on a woman's right to choose. Thoughts?

Chris said...

According to Wikipedia, Moussaoui is held at a federal prison in Colorado. I don't think he has ever been in Guantanamo.

As for the Mexico City Policy, I am for Obama's decision. I think the US cutting funds that help needy people around the world is wrong, even if the option of abortion is a small part of their program. These programs do important life-saving work and they need consistent funding. I may not agree with everything they do but their overall work in necessary. I also don't think this view is unique to Obama: Clinton did the same thing when he was president. It is another partisan debate that Republican and Democrat leaders will go back and forth on.

Wes Church said...

Hey Chris,
Long time, no talk. I've been reading your blog off and on for a while. Enjoyed the Christmas ornaments and enjoyed the discussion during the election cycle.

One thing I appreciated was that your reasoning for your choice for president was from a Spiritual/Christian perspective. I can respect a Believer for choosing most any candidate as long as they can reconcile that decision with their faith. Too many alienate their faith from their decision-making, which frustrates me.

But I'm very surprised by your agreement with the rescinding of the Mexico City Policy. I thought for sure you would be disappointed, even if you had to say that you knew that there would be some policies Obama put into place that you disagreed with but you still believed he was the best man for the job (similar to how you feel about the Gitmo Prison executive order falling short of what you had hoped for at this time).

Maybe I'm not as educated on the issue, but I'm pretty sure there's not a whole lot of "life-saving work" that's being limited by the policy (in fact, depending on your position on the abortion issue, it could be argued that having the Policy in place has actually saved lives). The typical argument against the Mexico City Policy has been that it limits access to contraceptives or that it limits free speech, not that it limits the saving of lives. Many of the NGOs just adapted to the policy and didn't practice abortion as a form of family planning. The NGOs that didn't adapt were primarily organizations like Planned Parenthood, which has promoting a pro-choice agenda as one of it's central directives. But those organizations aren't out of business, they simply adapt to a budget that doesn't receive partial funding from the U.S. Treasury.

Now I will not try to make the argument that some good was in no way limited by the Policy, because I'm sure it was. But there is a greater good, and I would argue that protecting the unborn is a pretty big deal. I would imagine you agree, since you've stated before on your blog that you are pro-life.
I do find it contradictory for President Obama to rescind this policy, although I'm not surprised. He said in the now famous interview with Rick Warren that determining when life begins is above his "pay grade." I think it is only simple reasoning to say that if one cannot determine if something is a living person one should err on the side of protecting it as opposed to erring on the side of uninformed murder.

But like I said, I'm not an expert on the Mexico City Policy, although I'm fairly certain (having read the executive order) that the entire policy is concerned with international abortion rights issues. Maybe you've read some different information about the policy than I have. If that's the case, I'd love to know where I can access the same material.

Thanks for the dialogue. Even if I don't write any more, I will continue to read. I just like the perspective and knowing what's going on with you and Heather. Rachel and I will be in DC in April for a couple of days. Maybe we could catch up while we're there. Later!

Heather said...

I try to avoid the abortion issue on Chris's blog. But I want to mention a few things regarding protection of the unborn.

60% of all persons created are killed due to spontaneous abortion, the majority a result of factors amenable to treatment: hormone deficiencies, maternal diabetes, immunological factors, nutritional deficiency, maternal smoking, ethanol use, etc. Natural family planning also contributes to spontaneous abortion as it increases the proportion of conceptions involving older gametes, and may cause as much or more embryonic death as emergency contraception (morning after pill). The stark, biological truth is that any woman who takes oral contraceptives has very possibly induced an abortion because the pill does not just prevent ovulation, but also interferes with fertilization and implantation so an embryo conceived is not viable.

For those who believe embryos conceived have the same moral status as adult humans, each of these deaths must have just as much weight as the death of an adult, and then the moral imperative is to do everything possible to prevent spontaneous abortion. But hands up those who take or whose partners take the pill or who practice natural family planning. The reason why my brand of baby killing passes for socially acceptable is because it happens without my awareness. Except it doesn't. I know how oral contraceptives and natural family planning work their magic -- and I have the education and resources to use these methods so I can pursue my own interests. Isn't pursuit of non-critical interests over prevention of embryonic death the central conflict in cases of abortion/in vitro fertilization/stem cell research?

People can believe what they want, but those who want to believe in absolutes should subscribe absolutely. If we were so concerned about moral status at conception we would have greater curiosity about the facts regarding embryonic death. And those who want to judge the reproductive practices of others should first disclose their own.

Chris said...

I'm rather annoyed because I wrote this earlier and just found out that it didn't post. I'll try to recreate it here, but believe me when I say that the first version was much more persuasive.

Wes, I think you underestimate the effect of the Mexico City Policy on the work of NGOs. You say they "simply" adapt their budgets, but there is nothing simple about it. Losing that kind of funding is not easily made up, seriously threatening their work, much of which might have absolutely nothing to do with abortion.

You also mentioned the alternative--taking abortion off their agenda. While I may personally believe this is ideal, I am not comfortable telling people living in circumstances I cannot imagine and the NGOs that serve them what they can and cannot do. I am against abortion on personal and religious grounds, but the separation of church and state says that I cannot impose that belief on others.

Which brings us to Heather's point. As Americans, we can be quick to judge others on these types of issues, but what is the difference between what we define as abortion and various commonly used contraceptives? An example: a New York Times article last month discussed the dilemma of parents who had used in vitro fertilization and didn't know what to do with the remaining embryos. While I sympathize with their emotional issue, I fail to see how implanting the embryo at a time when it was sure to die naturally or holding a ceremony to bury unused embryos, the choices of some couples, is any different than abortion.

Anyway, please continue to share around here--it gets lonely in these parts sometimes. And we'd love to see you and Rachel in April. Shoot me an email and we can work out the details.