THE PERSISTENT READER REPLIES: And makes the point that his “wrongful imprisonment” comments were directed towards the Guantanamo detainees, not the people detained on immigration violations. In the barrage of issues, I had overlooked the fact that the cartoon the reader was commenting on did indeed discuss the Guantanamo detainees. (Hey, I spent the weekend feeding bottles at 3 a.m. to my niece and nephew. I was tired.) Now that I understand the complaint, let me address it.
My reader says: “These two groups of detainees [the Guantanamo detainees and those detained on immigration violations] have very little to do with each other.” I disagree. I think the fundamental problem is the same: when you have someone in custody who you have reason to believe might want to kill literally thousands of your citizens, don’t you need to eliminate that possibility before you release that person? Can you imagine the outcry if one of the detainees was released and committed a terrorist act in our country, killing thousands? As the report on the immigration detainees observes, September 11 was an unprecedented event that left us unprepared with the necessary personnel to make all these determinations in the speediest manner possible. (It also impressed upon us the importance of care in making these determinations.) I think there is a clear parallel.
Of course, as you do this investigation, you must proceed in a proper fashion, both legally and morally. As far as the legalities, the Bush administration’s designation of the people in Guantanamo as “enemy combatants” (which my reader disagrees with) has been challenged and so far the courts have upheld the designation. In the case that made it to the appellate court, the guy was on the battlefield with a weapon in his hand when detained. His lawyers had argued that maybe he had stumbled onto the battlefield and randomly picked up a weapon out of curiosity — at least he was entitled to a jury trial with a reasonable doubt standard on the issue. Well, that’s not the way it’s ever been done in battle, for reasons obvious to rational people. And so the courts have held.
As far as the morality of the detentions, I have on these pages expressed some concern about the reports that emerged when the first Guantanamo prisoners were released. Many right-wingers exulted in the fact that nearly all those released had praised their conditions of confinement. Sample quote: “The conditions were even better than our homes. We were given three meals a day — eggs in the morning and meat twice a day; facilities to wash, and if we didn’t wash, they’d wash us; and there was even entertainment with video games.” In my post on the matter, I noted that these right-wingers ignored the reports (in the same articles) of beatings and gassings. I noted that these latter claims might not be true, but were a matter of concern and should not be ignored.
I still feel the same way. We should keep a close eye on the issue, and not ignore anything we hear. And just as the right-wingers should not ignore reports of abuse, my reader should not ignore reports of video games, free Korans, and good food. I am inclined to give the benefit of the doubt as to the length of the detentions, given that most of these folks were taken prisoner while fighting us in Afghanistan (a very real and meaningful distinction between them and the folks detained on immigration violations). But obviously the government should move as quickly as possible. The people are watching.