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Gary Horton: Guantanamo tarnishes U.S. reputation

Posted: June 19, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: June 19, 2013 2:00 a.m.

On June 6, Fox News reported Buck McKeon’s Armed Services Committed had passed another $650 billion "defense" budget.

Importantly, couched inside this mother-of-all-tax-wasting-military-industrial-establishment welfare bill was also verbiage prohibiting President Obama from shutting down the Guantanamo prison / torture facility.

Yes, in fact, our own Congressman Howard "Buck" McKeon’s fiefdom is stopping President Obama from blotting out a stain on our nation’s reputation for "justice for all." And who said "Buck" McKeon was powerless?

From the start of his initial campaign, Obama promised to close the Guantanamo prison. And each year since his election, Democrat and Republican Congresses have, one way or another, passed legislation blocking him from doing so.

This year was no exception, and McKeon’s war-wonkers continued the U.S’s indefinite prison without trial by forbidding the president from spending funds to house the prisoners within the U.S. and denying any funds with which to relocate the Guantanamo prisoners to any domestic or foreign location.

It’s good to know that our "austerity loving" congressmen did, however, approve another 247 million public tax dollars for enhancing the Guantanamo prison itself.

That sum is worth about five public high schools or miles and miles of interstate highway reconstruction. Given these guys’ reputation for squandering billions, we’ll be putting on the final coat of paint on this dump just as we finally get around to bulldozing it.

But for these military-industrial groupies, it’s not value that is important; it’s spending the cash on lobbyists’ projects that matters.

Would you rebuild your house for $250 million if you knew that in the near future you would likely be tearing it down? Don’t worry; Guantanamo is only our hard-earned tax dollars at play.

So, we continue to house 166 foreign prisoners at Guantanamo. Most prisoners before them have already been repatriated to their countries as free citizens or have been incarcerated in their countries.

Some have been relocated to U.S.-based prisons. Now with only 166 left, and the Armed Services Committee is spending billions across a decade to simply not deal with this troublesome issue. Talk about the cost of procrastination!

I’m no terrorist sympathizer. Yet let’s be straight. These aren’t the guys who flew airplanes into our buildings. Some were fighters against the U.S. as we staged wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

Some may indeed be active terrorists, hell bent on bringing down the USA. Some may have been caught driving the wrong taxicab with the wrong folks in the back seat or been in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Whatever the case, these people were captured, commandeered across the world to our Cuban island prison, and held up to 10 years without trial and with virtually no representation or right of appeal.

Our government labels them terrorists to keep them off shore, out of view, and outside our open justice system. Meanwhile, the rest of the world calls them POWs, held without trial and against standing international law.

After 10 years of captivity, many have engaged in hunger strikes to bring attention to their condition. Without precedence, their military overseers have strapped them to chairs, force-feeding them against their will.

The rest of the Western world views this as an additional offense against human rights, which further blights the U.S. claim of "Beacon of Justice to the World."

In the end, it’s the U.S. legacy of justice that’s at risk at Guantanamo. Hard rightists argue, "These men are terrorists because our security forces say so." They contend that holding a terrorist indefinitely is easier than hunting them down, so "why let them go back to terrorize again?"

But what if some, or many, are innocent?

In America, we believe everyone has the right to a fair trial before condemnation. At Guantanamo, where are the trials and justice America stands for? Buck McKeon and his committee of military hardware fetishists pay tribute to arms sales lobbyists while overlooking America’s responsibility for upholding human rights and justice.

Even the most offensive Nazis were tried in public courts for history and all to witness. Surely today’s America can do the same with these 166 men.

If guilty, let’s punish them. If not, let them go. But whatever, let’s end this stain on America’s reputation. "Mr. McKeon, tear down these walls!"

Beyond human rights, there’s also economical reason. We pay $1.4 million per prisoner, per year, to keep Guantanamo running. And add in the $250 million bucks Buck just heaped on us taxpayers’ backs to spruce Guantanamo up.

How’s that feel, when we know we can move these men to high-security U.S.-based prisons for a mere $60k per year, saving hundreds of millions for better uses here for you and me?

Instead, Congress locks up prisoners who will never be seen and buys excessive military hardware that is neither wanted nor needed because the junk is manufactured in their districts and appearing tough and warrior-like sells like sex.

And you and I pay the ever-running tab for the expensive, ineffective governance.

Mr. McKeon, stop this stain on common sense and America’s reputation! Tear down prison walls and stand up for human rights! America can both strengthen its security and our cherished and previously well-deserved reputation while saving money at the same time.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. "Full Speed to Port!" appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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