I read with dismay Sen. Orrin Hatch’s op-ed piece in today paper (click!) and have to wonder where he went to school — Russia in the 1950s?
His piece argues for keeping Guantanamo prison open as a place to house terror suspects, but his arguments for detaining these people are spurious at best and, in one sense, downright un-American. Hard to fathom from an alleged Republican who swore, so we are told, to uphold the Constitution.
He says these people are dangerous, they are terrorists, they need to be held. But how do we know that?
We have his word, presumably, and the word of the government that captured them. But what good is that word? This is the same government that tells us radiation won’t hurt us when it blows up bombs in our back yard, that football heroes died in honorable combat in Afghanistan when they were really killed by their own men, and that Iraq had weapons of mass destruction.
So there’s that. If these men had been tried, and evidence presented, and guilt proven, we might have a better idea of their guilt, but we haven’t had that process.
The Bush Administration, in its rush and fear after 9-11, decided that all Constitutional protections needed to be tossed out. It so botched the capturing and handling of these prisoners that it may never be possible to try them fairly.
Sen. Hatch seems to forget that the protections of accused in the Constitution are not the result of some liberal cabal at the original Constitutional Convention trying to introduce weeny liberal ways for the guilty to get out on a technicality. They are the deeply conservative result of the very well founded fear by the Founding Fathers that government will, if given the opportunity, throw its enemies into dark holes and lose the key. Certainly Vice President Dick Cheney and President Bush saw nothing wrong with that. The Power to toss some poor schmuck into jail is very heady, the Founding Fathers knew, which is precisely why the put so many restrictions on it.
History tells us that the first thing every power-drunk megalomaniac says is ”trust me, I’ll only do this to really bad people.” He/she then proceeds to toss all his/her political opponents into jail. Richard Nixon clearly wanted to do just that in assembling his “enemies list” during the Watergate scandals, and it lurks constantly.
That’s really my main problem with Sen. Hatch. Even if he were right about these prisoners (and I have no way of knowing if he is) he expects us to support the continuation of an enterprise that confounds that most basic of American rights: The right to not be imprisoned unjustly by government.
Sen. Hatch expects me to believe that these men need to be held just because he says they need to be. That is not a power I trust Sen. Hatch, or President Obama, or anyone else to have.
Guantanamo represents an astonishing abuse of power and needs to be shut down. Sen. Hatch needs to get back to defending the Constitution.
If that means we end up releasing a few guilty terrorists, or a few innocent ones, or imprisoning some guilty ones in the US, so be it. The alternative is to hold untried prisoners forever, something no American should allow.
Guantanamo was set up as a prison for these people in the first place precisely to avoid applying American values to their incarceration. That decision has now come back to haunt us, but in the long run should serve as an example to reinforce the need for those protections, and their application at all time, in the future.