Money might be the root of all evil, or perhaps it’s lawyers, but I’d make an argument that procrastination is near the top of the list of bad things. Generally fueled by fear and sloth, procrastination wreaks havoc on our psyche. Practiced at an Olympic level, it can destroy relationships, stall careers, and become so entrenched as to render a once merely complicated situation irreversibly damaged.
Case in point: Guantanamo.
Opened January 2002 in response to 9/11, the camp (and when I say ‘camp’, I don’t mean s’mores) for global terrorism suspects, at its peak, held over 700 detainees. Over the years, many have been released, deemed innocent of the charges brought against them. Oh wait – there were no charges brought against them. Heck, one guy was a used car salesman, in the wrong place at the wrong time. Several were juveniles. Too many were swept up by Afghani and Pakistani authorities intent on collecting the $5000 bounty offered by the U.S. government for arrests. Former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s top aide, Lawrence Wilkerson, made it clear that W, Cheney, and Rummy knew many of those incarcerated were innocent but thought it imprudent to do or say anything – in the name of our safety and their political reputations.
Enter President Obama. Closing Guantanamo became a priority, one he hoped to accomplish by the end of his first year in office. That didn’t happen. Why? The likes of Sean Hannity, the Fox News talking head, called the detainees ‘the worst of the worst’ and instilled FEAR among his vast, paranoid audience. Congress, led by Mitch McConnell, jumped on board, declaring it a bad idea to have these ‘captured terrorists’ transferred to American backyards, or at least prisons in the backyards of American towns and cities. The boogeymen in Cuba scared us too much to be dealt with and so, like most critical issues facing our government, the President and Congress decided to procrastinate. Guantanamo could be dealt with another day.
Cut to four years later. One hundred sixty-three detainees remain, many attempting to starve themselves to death. The bad press the U.S. will get when prisoners actually start dying of hunger will only be added to the already atrocious reputation we began to develop after Abu Ghraib. Gitmo, in its current state, is a bad idea that only gets worse the more we put off the difficult choices. By not stopping long enough to figure out a solution, and comprehensively agreeing on what that solution is, we’ve created human beings down at the naval base in Cuba who hate us now even if they didn’t when they arrived. Some of them (most?) are very likely bad men who want to do bad things to America, but looking at the history of the place, there’s a good chance that several were benign, if not outright innocent, when they were arrested. Who’s to know? They’re enemy combatants. They have no rights.
A lawyer friend (I have several) once told me that the foundation of this country’s justice system, and that of many enlightened nations – innocent until proven guilty – is to be upheld at all costs, ‘even if it means criminals sometimes go free’. I have no idea who these men are at Guantanamo. They look guilty of something because they look like the 9/11 hijackers, but I’d hardly present those feelings in a court of law. The point is, we can’t continue to ignore them indefinitely, even if, as average Americans going about our day-to-day lives, we think we can. It matters how the world views us. It matters how we view ourselves.
The economy, immigration reform, sensible gun control, clean energy, Gitmo – Washington kicks the can down the road every day on each of these issues. Policy based on fear, greed, hubris, and sheer laziness? It’s procrastination. The root of all evil? I think so.
In case you’re interested:
High Court Hears Detainee Rights Case – NPR, Nina Totenberg
Classified Files Offer New Insight Into Detainees – NY Times, Charlie Savage, William Glaberson, and Andrew W. Lehren
By the Numbers: Ten Years at Guantanamo Bay – Thinkprogress.com, Eli Clifton