Thursday, January 07, 2010

Not with a bang, but a whimper

Speaking of epiphanies....

Media Matters flagged this because:

"The print headline of a January 7 New York Times article reads "Many Ex-Detainees Return To Terror, Pentagon Says" [emphasis added] -- a claim not supported by the article itself, which does not assert that the detainees in question had previously engaged in terrorist acts but only that a Pentagon report finds that "about one in five" of former Guantánamo detainees that have been released subsequently "has engaged in, or is suspected of engaging in, terrorism or militant activity."
The article now online reads:

Administration officials said Wednesday that a classified Pentagon report concludes that of some 560 detainees transferred abroad from the military prison at Guantánamo Bay, about one in five has engaged in, or is suspected of engaging in, terrorism or militant activity.

The finding comes amid reports that one former Guantánamo detainee released in 2007 under the administration of President George W. Bush is now involved with a branch of Al Qaeda based in Yemen, a group that President Obama has said sponsored the attempt to bomb an American airliner on Christmas Day.

Mr. Obama announced Tuesday that he was suspending the transfers of additional detainees from Guantánamo to Yemen, even though he said he remained committed to his plan, now delayed, to close the prison.
And online carries a headline: "Many Ex-Detainees Said to Be Engaged in Terror." The clear lesson is: we have created more enemies than we started with. Which isn't really a surprise. As Auden said 7 decades ago:

I and the public know
What all schoolchildren learn,
Those to whom evil is done
Do evil in return.
This poses an interesting problem, aside from the moral concerns (which, as Niebuhr would point out, cannot be the final consideration of a government charged with protecting its citizens): now that we have created terrorists, or possibly created them, what do we do? The legal and moral questions about establishing a prison for "enemy combatants" at Gitmo are long past. The fathers have eaten the sour grapes, and set their children's teeth on edge. The only question left is: now what? Do the moral and legal thing, and shut down Gitmo? How, then, do you answer to the families of the victims of terror who will surely come to you in the future? Tell them their family members died to resolve a legal qualm, a moral failing that was finally set right?

And how do we assess blame for this, now and in the future? Do we tell those future victims to blame George W. Bush? Dick Cheney? Barack Obama? Rahm Emmanuel? And what good will that do?

Alone, alone, about a dreadful wood
Of conscious evil runs a lost mankind,
Dreading to find its Father lest it find
The Goodness it has dreaded is not good:
Alone, alone, about our dreadful wood.

Where is that Law for which we broke our own,
Where now that Justice for which Flesh resigned
Her hereditary right to passion, Mind
His will to absolute power? Gone. Gone.
Where is that Law for which we broke our own?

The Pilgrim Way has led to the Abyss.
Was it to meet such grinning evidence
We left our richly odoured ignorance?
Was the triumphant answer to be this?
The Pilgrim Way has led to the Abyss.

We who must die demand a miracle.
How could the Eternal do a temporal act,
The Infinite become a finite fact?
Nothing can save us that is possible:
We who must die demand a miracle.

--W.H. Auden

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