(2 Timothy 1:7)
On January 11, 2002, the first prisoner arrived at Guantánamo Bay. Since then approximately 775 people have been detained there. 405 have been released, leaving about 305 people still in custody. The facility costs over $100 million to run each year (meaning we’ve spent over a half a billion dollars so far) and, in the course of six years, only ten people have been charged with crimes. One person, an Australian, pleaded guilty. Eighty-six percent of those detained in Afghanistan were not captured by US forces in combat, but were turned in by Afghan citizens for the reward money. The youngest known prisoner – excuse me, enemy combatant – is thirteen; the oldest is ninety-eight. (*These facts came from here, here, and here.)
There are several good reasons to close the detention camp at Guantánamo that run the gamut from pragmatic to philosophical, but I just want to talk about one: we are doing something to people from other countries we would not tolerate being done to our own citizens. We’ve put them in prison across an ocean and not on our soil (so they wouldn’t fall under full US jurisdiction), called them “combatants” instead of prisoners of war so we didn’t have to abide by the Geneva Conventions, made it almost impossible for them to get any kind of legal representation, and held most of them without telling them why they are in custody. I don’t care how damn scared we are of Osama bin Laden, or how justified we feel in answering violence with violence, what we are doing to the people at Guantánamo is wrong and we should stop.
Jesus was simple and direct: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” He said nothing about doing unto others to keep them from doing unto you. What he knew was treating each other as we wish to be treated is how perfect love casts out fear. Six years in Guantánamo shows us how fear casts out love. One of the pieces I saw supporting the detention camp started by pointing out that no US citizens were being held there. The implication seemed to be it was OK to do whatever we needed to do because they weren’t us. Is that really the choice we want to make?
I’m wearing orange on January 11, as are many Americans (I hope), as a statement of solidarity with those who wish to see Guantánamo closed. I understand there are many levels to the political and militaristic rhetoric around this issue on both sides. I understand we can read statistics in any number of ways. I also understand we live in a dangerous world. Six years of detention later, however, I don’t think we’re significantly safer because those guys have been locked up in Cuba.
Six years ago, my oldest nephew would have been about the same age as the youngest person detained at Guantánamo. In that six years, Ben finished high school, went on to college, even studied a semester at Oxford, and will graduate this summer. He wasn’t born in Afghanistan or in poverty, so he didn’t grow up hearing about al Qaeda. He didn’t grow up in a country that has stood at the crossroads of war and conquest for centuries. My nephew is going to graduate from college and the Afghan guy is still sitting in Gitmo. If he had lived all these years in Afghanistan, I don’t imagine he would have ended up at Oxford, but I feel as though we, as a nation, have robbed him and many others of lives they might have had because of our fear. We had been do unto in the September 11 attacks and we wanted to do unto in like fashion. It has served none of us well.
We are doing damage at Guantánamo. We can stop and we should.
May we live in and treat one another (all the one anothers) with a spirit of power, love, and a sound mind.