Snapshots from the United States of Incarceration…
So, the Pope of Hope announced his (purported) objective of closing the military detention center at Guantánamo Bay, Cuba (“Gitmo”) within one year and we’re expected to herald this announcement as a drastic break from the past. But—as some of the regulars on my blog instantly declared—if President Obama were serious about hope and change, he’d close the prison tomorrow, apologize to the detainees, and offer them financial reparations. That could be promptly followed up with the immediate indictment of all government officials (including those in Obama’s administration) responsible for supporting torture, secret prisons, extraordinary rendition, extrajudicial punishment, etc. And why not toss in the immediate closing of the US military base at Guantánamo Bay and the return of that land to Cuba? That, I submit, would be a minuscule first step upon which we could build.
Waiting a year to close a single prison is nothing to celebrate. Transferring those illegally detained humans is not change anyone can believe in. Public promises about not torturing have been heard before and even if we could trust such dubious assurances, why are we so goddamned appreciative when a US president merely declares his theoretical intention to think about adhering to fundamental international law?
The Chairman of Change has made no secret of how he wholeheartedly adores the bogus war on terror. Closing Gitmo (an act which still falls squarely into the believe-it-when-you-see-it category) is at best a strategic sidestep by a cautious and calculating new president.
A related New York Times piece began oh-so-cleverly: “Is Khalid Sheikh Mohammed coming to a prison near you?” In the Jan. 24, 2009 article—“Guantánamo Detainees? Not in My State,”—journalists (sic) Mark Mazzetti and Scott Shane wrung their hands over the 245 remaining inmates being “released into quiet neighborhoods across the United States.” It’s illustrative of the utter depravity we tolerate as normal in the home of the brave that war criminals like Henry Kissinger, Madeleine Albright, Dick Cheney, Wesley Clark, Colin Powell, Bill Clinton, etc. etc. walk freely among us while the newspaper of record preys on gullible readers with sensationalism and xenophobic fear mongering.
In that same Times article, Mazzetti and Shane inadvertently offered another manifestation of America’s cultural rot when they mentioned a discussion of reopening San Francisco’s Alcatraz Prison specifically for the assumed terrorists detained (illegally) at Gitmo. But a spokesman for California Senator Diane Feinstein was quick to clarify that Alcatraz was a “national park and tourist attraction, not a functioning prison,” and that the senator “does not consider it a suitable place to house detainees.”
I suggest you take a few seconds to contemplate the depth of moral vacuity it requires for a society to accept a former prison as a national park and tourist attraction. Alcatraz is not an ancient artifact that curious humans are lining up to explore but rather, it’s merely a inactive part of still fully active injustice system. More than one out of every 100 American adults is imprisoned in the land of the free while others plunk down cash to tour a prison?
As of December 31, 2007: 2,193,157 prisoners were held in Federal or State prisons or in local jails. That’s an estimated 506 prison inmates per 100,000 US residents. Breaking it down more specifically, there are…
*481 white male prison inmates per 100,000 white males in the US
*1,259 Hispanic male inmates per 100,000 Hispanic males
*3,138 black male inmates per 100,000 black males
(Of course, this doesn’t include all the dis-labeled folks locked in nursing homes against their will and the innumerable animals in laboratories, zoos, etc.)
As Angela Davis sez: “There’s always a tendency to push prisons to the fringes of our awareness [so] we don’t have to deal with what happens inside of these horrifying institutions.”
Take-home message: Gitmo is a symptom. Barack Obama is a symptom. Obama promising to close Gitmo is like placing a band-aid over a cancerous tumor.
Mickey Z. can be found on the Web at http://www.mickeyz.net