Shocker! Guantanamo Bay is a complete waste of money. The Miami Herald‘s Carol Rosenberg – uber guru on all things Gitmo – has a new article up that estimates that the facility costs the US Government $800,000 annually, per detainee. That comes out to roughly thirty times the cost of holding a prisoner on US soil. Mother Jones adds on an interesting factoid:
The irony is that with only 171 detainees left, there are more convicted international terrorists in federal prisons in the United States than there are detainees remaining at Gitmo.
Our inability – here, in 2011 – to close the prison at Guantanamo is the most damning indictment of the cowardice and ignorant fear that lies at the heart of American politics. I could ramble on all day in regards to the shame of that place, but instead I thought I’d provide a solid list of material that has helped shaped my mind on it.
Web Sites: Guantanamo Bay Section, Miami Herald. By Carol Rosenberg.
Carol Rosenberg won the Robert F. Kennedy award for Journalism (Domestic Print) in 2011 for her body of reporting from Guantanamo. By all accounts she has spent more time down at Gitmo than any other reporter; indeed, she has probably spent more time there than most military personnel. If you want one news source on Gitmo, this is all you need.
Audio: Habeas Schmabeas, This American Life. by WBEZ Chicago
Ira Glass and his merry band of radio wunderkinds produced this episode, which actually won them the 2006 Peabody Award for “clarifying and emphasizing the significance of a fundamental American legal right and for giving voice to victims of its abuse.” (Peabody Award citation.) It’s worth your time.
Books: The Least Worst Place, by Karen Greenberg
The best book to start with. Karen Greenberg goes through the very first 100 days that Gitmo was open in meticulous detail. The narrative focuses on Marine General Michael Lehnert who fought tirelessly, and ultimately in vain, for the Geneva Conventions to be upheld at the camp. It’s worth it alone as a case study in the costs and difficulty inherent in living out true moral courage and leadership.
The Eight O’clock Ferry To the Windward Side, by Clive Stafford Smith
Clive Stafford Smith was one of the first lawyers to arrive at Gitmo, and this book is a cataloging of much of his time spent at the camp and with the detainees he represented. Well written, engaging, insightful.
Have we learned nothing? Eight years to the day (March 19, 2003) that we launched the failed Iraq War, we find ourselves drawn into yet another war in a Middle Eastern country with absolutely no idea of what we are getting ourselves into. Let’s look at our rock-solid preparation:
-No congressional declaration of war.
-No stated exit strategy.
-No discussion of how much this will cost. (Haha, and I thought people cared about the deficit!)
-No honest discussion of whether we can achieve our stated objectives (of course, if you have vague objectives, you can always bullshit this one. See: Iraq War, Afghan War, Vietnam War…etc. Or, you can just blindly trust that America can do no wrong. It works out great in Middle Eastern wars!)
I rounded up some of the best commentary I’ve seen on the Libyan war so far:
Launching air strikes is the easiest, most exciting, and most dependably successful stage of a modern war, from the US / Western perspective. TV coverage is wall-to-wall and awestruck. The tech advantages are all on our side. Few Americans, or none at all, are hurt. It takes a while to see who is hurt on the ground.
But after this spectacular first stage of air war, what happens then? If the airstrikes persuade Qaddafi and his forces just to quit, great! But what if they don’t? What happens when a bomb lands in the “wrong” place? As one inevitably will. When Arab League supporters of the effort see emerging “flaws” and “abuses” in its execution? As they will. When the fighting goes on and the casualties mount up and a commitment meant to be “days, not weeks” cannot “decently” be abandoned, after mere days, with so many lives newly at stake? When the French, the Brits, and other allies reach the end of their military resources — or their domestic support — and more of the work naturally shifts to the country with more weapons than the rest of the world combined?
It looks more like once we’ve closed down Qaddafi’s air forces we’ve basically taken custody of what is already a failed rebellion. We’ve accepted responsibility for protecting them. Once we recognize that, the logic of the situation will lead us to arming our new charges, helping them get out of the jam they’re in.
So let’s review: No clear national or even humanitarian interest for military intervention. Intervening well past the point where our intervention can have a decisive effect. And finally, intervening under circumstances in which the reviled autocrat seems to hold the strategic initiative against us. This all strikes me as a very bad footing to go in on.
And this doesn’t even get us to this being the third concurrent war in a Muslim nation and the second in an Arab one. Or the fact that the controversial baggage from those two wars we carry into this one, taking ownership of it, introducing a layer of ‘The West versus lands of Islam’ drama to this basically domestic situation and giving Qaddafi himself or perhaps one of his sons the ability to actually start mobilization some public or international opinion against us.
The regime is shooting unarmed civilians at will – killing scores. We must surely stop this. Oh, wait. It’s Yemen, and we support the regime. Meanwhile, the Bahrainian autocracy, backed by the Saudi theocracy, “cleanses” its capital city of the symbols of democratic hope, with the assistance of foreign troops. But we are somehow able to resist the impulse to intervene – and maintain diplomatic relations with the royal family there.
The trouble with intervening somewhere is that it begs the question of: why not somewhere else? If the motive is entirely humanitarian, and involves no “vital national interest”, then how can it be compatible with allowing, say, the Iranian dictatorship to kill, shoot dead, torture and disappear countless Iranians who peacefully sought real change?
Yes, the Obama administration has now interjected American power into what was a few days ago a revolution entirely for the Arab world to resolve itself. My fear is that this decision was made without a thorough public airing of all the unanswered questions about unintended consequences. I worry that the West’s involvement will merely reignite the paradigm in which the Arab world is incapable of reforming itself without meddling from the West, and revives the danger of changing the subject from the malfeasance and incompetence of the various regimes to the broader argument about the Arab world’s relationship with the outside world. I remain of the view that, for reasons of prudence and constitutional propriety.
After George H.W. Bush ordered the invasion of Panama, New York Times correspondent R.W. Apple wrote that starting new military conflicts is “a Presidential initiation rite,” that “most American leaders since World War II have felt a need to demonstrate their willingness to shed blood,” and that Bush’s order to attack tiny, defenseless Panama “has shown him as a man capable of bold action.” Just as the Founders predicted, allowing Presidents to order military attacks without the approval of the citizenry (through their Congress) has engendered a whole slew of unnecessary wars that serve the political and ruling classes but not the people of the country.
The dangers from unilateral, presidential-decreed wars are highlighted in the Libya situation. There has been very little public discussion (and even less explanation from the President) about the reasons we should do this, what the costs would be on any level, what the end goal would be, how mission creep would be avoided, whether the “Pottery Barn” rule will apply, or virtually anything else. Public opinion is at best divided on the question if not opposed. Even if you’re someone who favors this intervention, what’s the rationale for not requiring a debate and vote in Congress over whether the President should be able to commit the nation to a new military conflict? Candidate Obama, candidate Clinton, and the Bush-era Democrats all recognized the constitutional impropriety of unilateral actions like this one; why shouldn’t they be held to that?
Adm Mike Mullen, chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, said the outcome of military action from the air was “very uncertain” and made it clear that Washington did not see the goal of Operation Odyssey Dawn as removing the Libyan leader from power.
Opening up the possibility of a rift between the US and Britain and France if the Gaddafi regime does not crumble quickly, he said: “The goals are limited. It’s not about seeing him go. It’s about supporting the United Nations resolution which talked about eliminating his ability to kill his own people.”
Adm Mullen said it was “certainly potentially one outcome” that the mission could succeed while leaving Col Gaddafi in power.
So basically, we can blow a couple hundred million dollars launching Tomahawks and aircraft into Libya, only to leave a pissed-off, wounded Qaddafi in power. The only way we win is if the rebels are able to recover, push all the way to Tripoli, and then seize power from Qaddafi in a relatively short amount of time. Every single other outcome is a failure for American and NATO forces and a propaganda victory for Qaddafi. If Qaddafi doesn’t fall, what then? Do we maintain a no-fly zone indefinitely while waiting for the rebels to gain strength? Do we send in ground troops? Do we start targeting Qaddafi? We could always just walk away, but I doubt we as a nation have the moral courage to do that. Peggy Noonan had a great piece in the Wall Street Journal recently that was spot on:
The biggest takeaway, the biggest foreign-policy fact, of the past decade is this: America has to be very careful where it goes in the world, because the minute it’s there—the minute there are boots on the ground, the minute we leave a footprint—there will spring up, immediately, 15 reasons America cannot leave. The next day there will be 30 reasons, and the day after that 45. They are often serious and legitimate reasons.
So we wind up in long, drawn-out struggles when we didn’t mean to, when it wasn’t the plan, or the hope, or the expectation.
We have to keep this phenomenon in mind as we chart our path in the future. It’s easy to start a war but hard to end one. It’s as simple as that. It’s easy to get in but hard to get out. Even today, in Baghdad, you hear that America can’t leave Iraq because the government isn’t sturdy enough, the army and police aren’t strong enough to withstand the winds that will follow America’s full departure, that all that has been achieved—a fragile, incomplete, relative peace—will be lost. America cannot leave because Iraq will be vulnerable to civil war, not between Sunnis and Shiites, they tell you now, but between Arabs and Kurds, in the north, near the oil fields.
(00:13) The international meeting to determine how to best support Yemen and stabilize the country started today in London. The American Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, arrived in London today to participate in the meeting that is being attended by 24 countries.
(00:32) In other news, the Washington Post newspaper quoted American officials who said that American teams were working in secret operations with the Yemeni Army against the al-Qa’ida organization. The officials clarified that American advisors helped plan an operation against al-Qa’ida in December of last year.
(00:51) The United Nation’s sections committee announced today that the names of five previous members of the Taliban were scratched off a list of those described as involved with terrorism. Diplomats believe that this step paves the way for the conference in London on Afghan affairs that will be held tomorrow.
(01:10) The official (1m) in Sri Lanka announced that the current President Mahinda Rajapaksa won a second (presidential) term. The (Sri Lankan) army surrounded the headquarters of the opposition leader for the second time. (The opposition leader) requested the protection of one of the neighboring countries.
(01:25) The spokesperson for the South Korean Ministry of Unity spoke about the country’s stance in the face of Pyongyang’s decision to implement a “no-sail” zone in a contested area between the two countries, saying that it was “still under review.” Pyongyang and Seoul had exchanged fire the previous day in the contested area.
(01:46) An official in the Lebanese army said that they will expand the search area for the remains of the wrecked Ethiopian airline if the black box is not found today. The official said that improving weather conditions will help further facilitate the (search) teams’ mission.
(00:13) The CEO of Ethiopian Airlines said that he hasn’t heard any news yet about survivors from the crash of one of its passenger airplanes early yesterday morning after its takeoff from Beirut airport. There were 90 passengers on board. Rescue teams have so far recovered 30 bodies and numerous (1m) from the airplane’s wreckage. 54 Lebanese were among the passengers, along with 22 Ethiopians and the wife of the French Ambassador in Beirut.
(00:44) The Lebanese President, Michel Sulayman, has already held a meeting at the Ministry of Defense to look into the circumstances surrounding the airplane crash and ruled out any sort of act of sabotage. Likewise the Lebanese Minister of Defense, Elias Murr, confirmed that American planes would participate in the rescue operations, with permission from the Lebanese (Government).
(01:03) The American General, Stanley McCrystal, Commander of NATO forces in Afghanistan, said that he hopes that the increase in the number of American troops in Afghanistan will lead to the weakening of the Taliban to the point that it will sign a peace treaty and end the war.
(01:25) Five soldiers were injured in an attack on a military checkpoint in the province of al-Dhaliya’ in Yemen, which the authorities said was launched by armed fighters from the “Harak al-Janubi” (Southern Movement) Elsewhere, 3 students were injured, one seriously, in an outbreak of gunfire by the Southern Movement’s forces which it said was accidental and unintentional, whereas the authorities said that it was the result of the Southern Movement’s attempts to force students to participate in the insurrection that the Southern Movement has called for.
(01:55) Preparations continue in Sri Lanka for tomorrow’s Presidential election, and ballot boxes began to be distributed to voting centers country-wide. The current President, Makinda Rajapaksa, and the former commander of the Army, Sarath Fonseka, are among the most prominent of the candidates in this election.
(00:15) An earthquake with a strength of 7.0 on the Richter scale struck the Haitian peninsula in the Caribbean Sea has led to the destruction of vast areas and many buildings. It’s been reported that there could be up to thousands killed (still) under the rubble of the collapsed buildings. Already, governments from countries around the world have announced (their intent) to deliver hasty support to supply to the victims of (this disaster).
(00:39) An al-Jazeera correspondent in Yemen reports from the Shabwa province that a (person) named ‘Abdullah Mahdhar, leader of an al-Qa’ida cell in the area of al-Hawta, was killed in clashes with Yemeni security forces in the southern Shabwa province.
(00:53) Riyadh announced officially that the President of Syria, Bashar al-Asad, will visit the Kingdom (of Saudi Arabia) today, and will take part in talks with the Saudi family, and the King ‘Abdullah Ibn ‘Abd-al-‘Aziz. The discussions between the two sides will revolve around bilateral relations in addition to regional and national issues.
(01:11) Danny Ayalon, Israel’s Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, apologized for his conduct with the Turkish Ambassador. He said that the foreign embassies were not amongst his opponents. The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan, had criticized the statements of the Israeli Foreign Ministry as disgracing Turkey in the latest (1m), and Israel promised that it would respond appropriately.
(01:36) In Beirut, the seventh annual conference of the International al-Quds Foundation began with the participation of associations of scientists, intellectuals, and politics. The conference will be discussing issues and developments in al-Quds(Jurusalem) and a number of steps to preserve it’s Arabic and Islamic character.
(01:53) The International Security Assistance Force, or ISAF, in Afghanistan said that two American soldiers were killed this morning in an IED detonation in the southern part of the country. Meanwhile, the United Nations said that this past year was the deadliest for civilians since 2001.
Two American soldiers working with the North American Treaty (Organization) Forces (NATO) were killed in an explosion in eastern Afghanistan according to a NATO announcement today. Elsewhere, the Afghan President, Hamid Karzai, emphasized that his country has required very little of the financial aid from the United States and there was no blank check as was mentioned in discussions with the American President, Barack Obama.
In the context of combat developments in Afghanistan, four Afghan soldiers and a civilian were killed in a car bomb in southeastern Khost province.
Likewise the Afghan Army announced the injury of three of it’s members and three civilians in a car bomb in southern Kandahar province, and a Afghan officer was killed and six soldiers wounded in an IED detonation targeting their convoy in the Ghazni province.
It’s worth mentioning that it was announced yesterday, Tuesday, that eight people were killed in clashes with Afghan and American security forces during protests of what (the protesters) said was desecration of a copy of the Holy Qur’an by international forces in the Jarmasir area of the Helmand province. At the same time, the NATO commander in Afghanistan said that 16 armed fighters were killed in UAV drone strikes in southern Afghanistan.
On the political side, the Afghan President denied what his American counterpart, Barack Obama, has repeated, which is that Washington was giving Kabul a blank check, but with that Karzai expressed his gratitude for the little financial (aid) that Washington was sending to Afghanistan.
Karzai said in an interview with the American television network ABC News, “We don’t have the right to obligate the American people to pay for us, or to help us, this is our country and we must protect it by ourselves and carry the financial burden ourselves.”
Karzai added, “We welcome the aid from America, and until now has (1m) billions for us, likewise in regards to the gratitude we are grateful for the help that we have received.”
Karzai has already requested America’s patience if his government is unable to meet the mandatory final date to take over responsibility for security that is set to occur at the end of 2011, and with that he has expressed his satisfaction that the withdrawal date is beneficial for Afghanistan.
Karzai explained his opinion, saying, “It pushes us to work with increased diligence towards strengthening and training our forces, and we will be involved in the life of Afghanistan, and we think a lot about how we use our resources in the best way, live within our means, and protect our country.”
The Afghan President gave assurance of his conviction that the United States and Kabul’s other allies will continue to stand with his country for many coming years, emphasizing that Afghanistan that enjoys self-sufficiency in all aspects of the country.
Obama had already announced – in a speech he gave last month – that he will send 30,000 additional soldiers to Afghanistan, but he is placing pressure on Karzai, “To stamp out the corruption in (Karzai)’s administration,” and (Obama) pledged to begin bringing the American soldiers in Afghanistan back home at the end of 18 months, and to turn over responsibility to the Afghan forces.
It’s worth mentioning that since the United States lead the invasion into Afghanistan in 2001 to throw out the Taliban, Washington has sunk around 171.4 billion dollars to keep the Taliban away, and around 900 American soldiers have been killed in fighting with the Taliban and the al-Qa’ida organization in Afghanistan.