Listening to the radio today, during a discussion about the hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay, one person’s statement began “Aside from the ethical issues”. His meaning was that if the ethical issues are overlooked, everything else about his statement was acceptable.
What has happened to us? How can overlooking ethical issues even exist as an option?
The question they were discussing had to do with the forced feeding of prisoners who are holding a hunger strike. This is Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. A little patch of hell on an otherwise tyrannically repressed island that we have leased since 1903. Our modern variant of the Black Hole of Calcutta, replete with new horrors gained from our society’s advancements. The primary ethical question should be “Why are we using this place as a prison?”. We’ve had to put many ethical issues aside in order to get to this point, why not keep it up?
In the days following 9/11, suspected terrorists were detained world wide. We were not technically at war (nor were we in Korea or Viet Nam), so we couldn’t hold them as Prisoners of War (besides, if we did we would have to comply with the Geneva Conventions). The fact is, we couldn’t hold them at all. So we dug up the term “Enemy Combatant”, but if we brought them to America we would be constrained by Constitutional Protections. So we found our own little Black Hole, outside of the jurisdiction of anyone we might care about.
This works better than renditions. We get to maintain custody, and there are no constraints.
A brief aside. We began to openly acknowledge a difference between “Legal” and “Moral” in the 90s, “Moral” meaning “Well yeah, in a perfect world, but I’m not legally required to be moral”.
Questioning of prisoners was not restricted to any of the rules of the American Constitution, or the Geneva Conventions, or Human Decency. Triple play. Information leaked anyway, and the American public debated whether water boarding was a legitimate interrogation technique or torture, but who cares? We could do whatever we wanted anyway.
Another brief aside. As a person trained in interrogation techniques, I can unequivocally make the following statements. Torture is in the hands of the interrogator, anything can be torture. Torture does not produce meaningful intelligence. Performed properly, water boarding is not torture.
Along comes a Presidential candidate, and he promises to close Guantanamo Bay. The rationales are endless, but the essential reason is never stated. It is immoral to hold human beings indefinitely and with no restrictions as to their treatment.
That was in 2008. Now it’s 2013. Guantanamo Bay is still open, and people are starting to realize just how long “indefinitely” can be. Of the original 779 prisoners, over 500 were released prior to our current President taking office, leaving 242. Of the 166 prisoners still being held, 86 have been approved for release, but no one will take them. Forty six human beings have been designated by the Obama administration for indefinite detention with no charge or trial.
Presently, one hundred prisoners are on hunger strike. Rather than let them starve, which would be…unethical? they are being force fed, which is…unethical. What quandaries you find when you go dancing with the Devil. When you need to start by using restraint chairs, a device that is so inhumane that not only human rights groups, but even the severe Maricopa County Jail has banned their use, you should have a clue you’re heading down the wrong path. When you recognize that medical personnel will not participate in a medical procedure (intubation) due to ethical restraints, maybe you need to rethink your procedures. These are the issues you run into when you maintain your very own Black Hole. Simply creating new euphemisms for illegal practices can’t work forever.
Long ago I learned that humane is not equal to aesthetic. Very good things can be horribly ugly. This applies not only to the visual realm, but also to our souls. This process works both ways, the Autumn Crocus is exceptionally poisonous. Way back in 2001 using Guantanamo Bay as a prison seemed like a reasonable idea, aside from the ethical issues. Five years ago most of us had realized it was a bad idea. If we cannot tolerate twenty dead children in Connecticut, how can we fathom one hundred prisoners, some already cleared for release, still being tortured? Is there any reason for Guantanamo Bay to be open, at all? And yet, it appears to be out of the President’s hands.
Violating our beliefs does not get better with time, it gets worse. When we step away from being ethical, we step away from being human.