Friday, April 3, 2009

Sweet Land of Liberty

by Mort Malkin

Sweet Land of Liberty

By now everyone has heard of Guantanamo where detainees — don’t call them prisoners — have been held and subjected to all kinds of humiliation and sensory assault, all of which Amnesty International and the International Red Cross say is torture and falls under the Geneva Conventions. Abu Ghraib, complete with torture photos, also attracted the attention of every American with a TV set. The networks love sensational news stories illustrated with pictures that they can endlessly cycle.

Even if you’re an American with a choice of a zillion channels worth of TV, you may not have heard about the prison at Baghram Air Base, nor the “black sites” (then-Secretary Rice’s term) in foreign countries from a) Poland and Romania in Europe to b) Egypt, Jordan, Yemen, and Kuwait in the Near East to c) Thailand, South Korea and Taiwan in the Far East. But, you must understand we have no black sites in Russia, China, Iran, or Venezuela. Actually, the number of Guantanamo prisoners is just a little over 200. What’s the big deal — we hold 100 times as many in other installations around the world. Besides, only a small number of the 737 military bases abroad are used to imprison detainees. We should keep things in perspective — the International Red Cross presented only one side of the story.

The ACLU, that pinko organization, says we are holding prisoners unconstitutionally without due process, sometimes for years. The ACLU claims it is fair & unbiased with an 89 year old tradition, but it is a Johnny-come-lately compared to the DAR founded in 1890. The proper ladies of the DAR haven’t objected to treatment of detainees. Neither has Dick Cheney who says the Gitmo detainees are being provided free lodging, food, and medical care on a tropical island. He says they’re better off than US citizens on food stamps. Why, Guantenamo is just like an exclusive gated community. The TV satirists made fun of Poor Richard (poor in conscience) just as they laughed at Donald Rumsfeld saying that the Abu Ghraib torture was no worse than fraternity pranks. Damned network pundits — they can’t recognize innovation in interrogation.

Of course, George Bush must take part of the blame. First, he said that warrantless wire tapping was necessary because speed is necessary to catch those who would harm us. Waiting 48 hours while a FISA judge signs a warrant might be too long to stop an act of terror. Meanwhile, George insisted on jailing detainees for years on end because they might be withholding (outdated) information. Was George in some kind of time warp, or did those years of alcohol (admitted) and drugs (alleged) liquify his brain’s center of time logic? Either way, the prime choice for the White House first responders became: Spin.

Abuse in prisons on the domestic front can’t be blamed on the Bush-Cheney (B-C) administration. Yes, they brought newspeak to new heights, but that is a copyright problem for the estate of George Orwell. Spin doctors had been at work in federal and state government long before selectee George moved into the White House. When the Department of War became the Department of Defense in 1949, many states got the idea that they should change the name of their Department of Prisons to Department of Corrections. The two name changes were equally illogical. Nationally, the new Department of Defense kept our country safe from such threats as Vietnam, Panama, Grenada, and Iraq. In the various states, Departments of Correction are so effective in their new mission that prisons, nationwide, have an over 50% recidivism rate. The threat of prison isn’t even enough to scare our citizenry onto the straight & narrow. The US now has well over two million inmates incarcerated, Number One in the world. China is a poor second and Russia a distant third. USA,USA! What did you expect when we have the best laws against drug possession, making for easy arrests to fill our jails.

The Gadfly Revelry & Research gang (GRR) suggests that among all those inmates there are plenty of strong backs and creative brains to supply a clean, renewable energy industry based on sun, wind, tides, and river flows. But, what about the jobs of prison personnel and all the prison construction workers? Simple. The corrections officers can inspect the 98% of cargo containers entering the US that are presently unexamined. The prison builders can switch to building libraries and youth centers and, in their free time, work on public transportation systems. Of course, the prisoners will have to receive at least minimum wage, not the 20¢ an hour that is now commonly paid to prisoners for such work as painting walls, serving food, and keeping library books in order. Some have argued that prisoners don’t need money as all their needs are taken care of by the institution. The answer is that Bill Gates doesn’t “need” all the money he makes, either. We could add to the Bill Gates list all the CEOs of hedge funds, private equity companies, investment banks and a hundred others. A comedic member of the GRR smiles in noting that Bernie Madoff will soon be eligible for 20¢ an hour.

Then, there is the matter of Leonard Peltier, the American Indian poet and activist who has been imprisoned for 33 years. Leonard and others who were in the Pine Ridge Reservation that day insist that he did not shoot the two FBI agents but that he has been railroaded by the Agency and hounded while in jail. Many who work for human rights — Desmond Tutu, Amnesty International, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference for starters, consider Leonard a political prisoner. But the FBI has sworn that Leonard should never see the light of freedom. Currently he is in Lewisburg, PA, far from his family.

Recently, Leonard was transferred to the new prison at South Canaan, PA. There, he was beaten up by two young Indian prisoners who did not even know him. Leonard was put in solitary to separate the assaulters and the assaultee. Yet, visitors had to see this peaceful man through a window and converse with a microphone line between the rooms. We mustn’t let deductive logic interfere with the rules. This is America the Beautiful, not America the sensible.

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