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Jun 11 2014

Bergdahl craziness

The huge controversy over the exchange of five prisoners at the Guantanamo Bay priosn (which should have been shut down a long time ago) for a US soldier Bowe Bergdahl captured in Afghanistan has been quite incredible. Once again, we have the spectacle of people seemingly deciding their position on one issue by their views of something else, in this case whether the swap reflects well on president Obama, and then using that to drive their message.

In this case, the desire to hit at Obama has resulted in a rampage of unbridled and vicious speculation about Bergdahl and his family that has been quite disgusting to observe. These people are unleashing what has now become almost routine, the Orwellian ‘two-minute hate’, where for a time they all focus on one person with the goal of completely destroying him or her. Rather than allowing the family to reunite in peace and let things work their course, we are witnessing a bizarre feeding frenzy on a single family.

Fox News and the elements of the right wing seem to have absolutely no sense of decency. Given the mood of the country, it would not surprise me if some ‘patriot’ is inspired by this hateful rhetoric to personally take it upon himself to ‘punish’ this hapless and already suffering family for their ‘treason’.

(This clip aired on June 9, 2014. To get suggestions on how to view clips of The Daily Show and The Colbert Report outside the US, please see this earlier post. If the videos autoplay, please see here for a diagnosis and possible solutions.)

11 comments

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  1. 1
    Marcus Ranum

    I do find it rather horrible that they released “known taliban” from Gitmo and haven’t released “known innocent” yet. So, apparently, Obama (who was “unable to close Gitmo” because of congress) was able to use presidential authority to release taliban from Gitmo, but wasn’t able to use presidential authority to release the innocent.

    The whole situation is so fucking wrong it makes my head spin.

    Of course they should have gotten Bergdahl out, that’s a government’s job. Obama was president in 2009, and Bergdahl was captured that summer. I know it would have been unrealistic for him to withdraw the US from Afghanistan like he promised to, fast enough, but maybe the whole situation (and all the intervening deaths and suffering) could have been avoided if he’d just lived up to his campaign promises (the ones which I voted for him, for). Getting Bergdahl released does not cover the US government in glory; it doesn’t even make things more than a little tiny bit better.

    The partisan bickering and posturing about Bergdahl is disgraceful, but I expect “my” elected “representatives” to cover themselves in shame, so I’m not shocked by their behaviors.

  2. 2
    Marcus Ranum

    PS – trading for Bergdahl is a very good thing because it may help counteract the desire to torture/execute captured US troops. Having them be clearly valuable may keep a few of them alive.

  3. 3
    left0ver1under

    These people are unleashing what has now become almost routine, the Orwellian ‘two-minute hate’, where for a time they all focus on one person with the goal of completely destroying him or her.

    I would characterize it as kneejerk reactions from jerks living on their knees.

  4. 4
    lorn

    I flash back to a conversations I’ve had after it was announced that we were pulling out of Iraq and Afghanistan.

    Someone expressed outrage over the withdrawal.

    I suggested that the only way to avoid any problems with withdrawal was to stay, forever. Perhaps declare the occupied nation the 51st state and set up congressional and senatorial districts. This isn’t complicated. We either stay or go. And if we finally admit that we will be leaving the question comes down to: when?

    If we aren’t going to keep the guys in Gitmo we have to release them, or kill them. Generally people dying in state custody of anything but old-age is seen as a negative in terms of human rights and international relations. Avoiding the obvious, that their objections are entirely a matter of propaganda points, I find it ironic that he same party which shows great delight in cutting food stamps and motivating the poor by increasing their poverty has no problems keeping over a hundred people well housed and fed, not to mention health and dental care, at government expense in Gitmo.

    From a military point of view the one place these people are safest is in custody. Hell, we won’t even let them miss a meal. Yes, it is a violation of freedom and humiliating but they will not be allowed to come to harm, even by their own hands.

    The five men released are moving out of Gitmo where they are guaranteed safety to a wider world where they could easily come to harm. And does anyone think we aren’t going to keep track of where they go and who they talk to? If I was in Al Qaeda I would assiduously avoid all calls and contacts from those five. The drones and satellites are still out there.

    Those five were never field operatives. At most they were administrative officials. They are ten years out of date and it can be assumed that they have given up everything they know. If anything these five represent a conundrum for Al Qaeda. If they don’t get help you show that once you are captured by the US you are on your own. If they are helped that help can be tracked back to its source to expose the internal structure of the organization.

    There is also the certainty that releasing these five is a test shot for releasing more. Fox News, et al, had previously made political hay over this administration not getting Bergdahl back. But as soon as the deal to get him back the right wing media machine did a quick 180 and condemned Obama for getting him back. If this contradiction forces the right to back off we might see more releases. If it becomes a firestorm Gitmo will remain full.

    The right is run by talk radio and talking head blow hards. There is no reasoning with them. As it is the only hope is that the right commits some act so egregious that the nation votes for a strong Democratic majority. Get a strong Democratic majority in both houses and Gitmo gets closed. Failing that the inmates will be leaving feet first after dying of old age.

  5. 5
    Marcus Ranum

    Get a strong Democratic majority in both houses and Gitmo gets closed

    When Obama first took power, with all the hope and a nobel prize behind him, he could have pushed harder to close Gitmo. He simply wasn’t willing to take the hit -or- depending on your perspective, show leadership.

    I admit I am particularly bitter on this topic because I decided (in advance of any of the candidates saying anything) that I would vote for whoever had the best story about getting the US out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and closing Gitmo. To say I feel cheated is an understatement.

  6. 6
    lorn

    ” I would vote for whoever had the best story about getting the US out of Iraq and Afghanistan, and closing Gitmo. To say I feel cheated is an understatement.”

    In the ‘no beanbag’ world of politics two out of three ain’t bad.

    He did actually try to close Gitmo but the tripping point was where to send them. Most of them are from Afghanistan or Yemen and neither wanted most of them. He tried to get them into federal custody on the mainland but that was blocked by congress. He tried to have trials to at least get the demonstrably innocent out but that was blocked by congress who couldn’t decide on details and logistics.

    If it is civilian rules of evidence almost half of the captives get released very quickly because the military didn’t follow credible rules of evidence. But what do we do with them if they are free to be released but their original states refuse to let them return? Letting them go in the US was a non-starter. If declared free to go but still in legal limbo and held in Gitmo because they have nowhere else to go, how is this an improvement?

    Sounds good to have a trial but where do you have this trial? They tried to get the trials in NYC but congress blocked that for fear it would make the entire state a target.

    But assuming you could overcome that obstacle there are logistical and legal issues to be solved and no desire on the right to solve this issue. Issues like: here do you keep the captives while they are tried? Do they get bail? What happens after the trial? If tried and found guilty do they go into general population and serve out their sentence? Found innocent or after serving their time do they get released, and where? Their counties or origin have mostly denied they can be returned. Do we sneak them in?

    I suspect that trials are essentially superfluous. The question of guilt or innocence doesn’t apply. The way this would go down if there was a large political majority sympathetic to working with the administration a deal would be cut. The US would pay other nations, mostly middle eastern nations to take them. There would be some fig leaves of surveillance and control by the accepting nation/s but essentially they are set free. After a decade in Gitmo most are not major threats. But it takes political cover to do this.

    It could be counted on that they would be monitored. Any messing about with terrorists would end up with their host government being paid to arrest them, information being released to make them look like US intelligence agents so they get killed by the terrorists, or a drone strike eliminates them. Those bits can be creatively combined. The move from Gitmo to a host nation is a move away from enforced safety to potential danger. We don’t do drone strikes in Gitmo. We do do them in other places. I’m absolutely sure everyone released knows this. Odds are that we will have paid the host government to provide a lifetime stipend for the ex-captives so they have reason to be well behaved.

  7. 7
    Mano Singham

    @lorn,

    By now trials are out of the question because the prisoners have been tortured and the US government cannot provide evidence that is untainted by it and would not like a public airing of what they did to the detainees.

  8. 8
    Marcus Ranum

    Sounds good to have a trial but where do you have this trial?

    Terrible idea. Give ‘em a presidential pardon (even if they didn’t do anything) and a fat check and an airplane ticket to wherever they want to go. How hard is that?

  9. 9
    lorn

    Actually, the way the US justice system works doesn’t mean torture invalidates a prosecution. The actual material obtained under torture would be suppressed but it doesn’t stop the trial. Also accusation by the defendant of what was done to him has no bearing on the case deciding his guilt or innocence. The law doesn’t present you a get-out-of-jail-free card no matter how many times you are water-boarded. Claiming civil right violations or mistreatment and seeking redress is an entirely different issue.

    The lack of admissible evidence might stop a trial but the greater issue is, and always has been, what do you do with them once outside Gitmo. With a few exceptions, the few exceptions largely paid for by large direct cash payments or arms shipment to the host nation, nobody wants these people. International law doesn’t allow us to repatriate a person without consent of the receiving state.

    Cruel practicalist have suggested flying them over their country of origin and kicking them out at 20,000 feet. It would solve the issue but not without opening up others. A failed prison break where the captives are shot would solve it while opening up an entirely new can of worms.

    The issue is that we are a hybrid system of being a nation that lacks the full set of options. In times past, not that many years ago, they would be taken out to a remote spot, shot and their bodies disposed quietly. When the press asked about them there would be a cover story followed by blank stares. Russia, China, some South American nations and others at various times would simply make them disappear. Happens all the time.

    I have a Russian friend who laughs at this sort of self-imposed dilemma. He also laughed at the Clinton sex scandal. Silly Americans. Paraphrasing: ‘In Russia a suggestion would be made about how unfortunate it would be if something happened, there might be an accident, the prisoner would disappear, and someone would get a promotion, or a new car’.

    Nations fight and the little people get stepped on. We aspire to do better but that isn’t always in the cards. This is also a relatively new development.

    Once in official custody away from the battlefield there are no solutions. Easy or otherwise. So, guilty or not, tortured or not, despite presidential aspirations to close the detention center, they rot in Gitmo. There is a long history, and a fair bit of literature, about stateless people being locked up. The traditional method of solving the problem is waiting for them to die. Given modern sensibilities, we can’t allow them to die by accident , disease or suicide, this problem may take fifty or sixty years to sort itself out. Sad but true.

    The military has largely resolved to avoid the problem in the future by taking far fewer prisoners. Also every soldier knows what “take care of the prisoners” means in certain context. And who is to say they didn’t make a run for it.

    Justice, fairness and the rule of law are ideals we struggle to achieve.

  10. 10
    sailor1031

    …in this case whether the swap reflects well on president Obama, and then using that to drive their message.

    Not quite correct. Based on the fact that they hate President Obama, by extension they hate everything he does including this. There is no thought behind it. Nothing Obama ever does can ever reflect well on him for these people.

    Were Obama a republican, or even just white, this would have been an act of courageous statemanship – as when Reagan negotiated with terrorists.

  11. 11
    lorn

    Rereading my posts it was clear to me that I hadn’t actually completed the circle.

    One of the main point that needs to be made is that these sorts of dilemmas, where human and civil rights rub hard in conflict with the practical aspects of politics, both internal and international, and law, are a testament not to our lack of respect for human rights but a function of our being at the forefront of advancing them among major powers.

    Yes, there are nations which seem to do a better job like the Norway and the Netherlands but the comparisons are not fair. Most of them are small relatively homogenous nations, with few international interests beyond simple commerce.

    Among major powers (US, Russia, China, India, perhaps Brazil) the US is the one most frequently embarrassed simply because we are far more open about our dirty laundry. Which may come down to a national psychological flaw in that we really suck at keeping secrets.

    ie: If the Snoden revelations shocked you you really weren’t paying attention. Look up “Total Information Awareness” , compare the dates and names. The the programs that eventually became the proposal for TIA were a matter of public record over forty years ago.

    We wring our hands and spill gallons of ink contemplating the fate of a relatively small number of people. There are fairly obvious reasons why other nations don’t make the press on similar cases: the press fails to report such cases and the people, and the conflicts themselves, tend to disappear.

    Hint: Despite the media whitewash it is clear that China is a seething cauldron of ethnic unrest with more than one well organized terrorist/insurgent group actively killing people and blowing things up. Several of the reported “accidents” were in fact terrorist acts. People arrested in China in connection with such acts often fall off the radar screen. But … No issue, no conflict, no insurgency, no attack, no arrests, no detainees, no reporting, no problem.

    We, The US, could do better of the major powers we are really the only ones openly and actively debating the issues brought up by real world conflicts between what we do and what we say, and between what works and how we want things to work. Between who we are now, and who we aspire to be.

    I think the ugliness and passions of such debates is healthy.

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