Last week, a federal judge ruled that the families of two men who died in detention at Guantanamo couldn't sue the government because their imprisonment as enemy combatants had been approved by a Combat Review Status Tribunal -- a CRST.
The same CRSTs the Supreme Court found "inadequate."
Following a two-year investigation, the military concluded that the men -- the two whose families were the plaintiffs in last week's court case, plus another -- had committed suicide. But recent first-hand accounts by four soldiers stationed at the base at the time of the deaths have raised serious questions about the cause and circumstances of the deaths, including the possibility that the men died as the result of torture.
The deaths of the three men at Guantanamo were the subject of a jaw-dropping article in Harper's Magazine by Scott Horton, an attorney who has written extensively on US detention policy and practice. Horton wrote, "The official story of the prisoners' deaths was full of unacknowledged contradictions, and the centerpiece of the report -- a reconstruction of the events -- was simply unbelievable." None of these men had any links to terrorism and two of them had already been cleared for release.
Horton went on to explain that, "According to Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) documents, each prisoner had fashioned a noose from torn sheets and T-shirts and tied it to the top of his cell's eight-foot-high steel-mesh wall. Each prisoner was able somehow to bind his own hands, and, in at least one case, his own feet, then stuff more rags deep down into his own throat. We are then asked to believe that each prisoner, even as he was choking on those rags, climbed up on his washbasin, slipped his head through the noose, tightened it, and leapt from the washbasin to hang until he asphyxiated. The NCIS report also proposes that the three prisoners, who were held in non-adjoining cells, carried out each of these actions almost simultaneously."
To which Dahlia Lithwick responded in Slate: "The NCIS report failed to question why it took two hours for these suicides to be discovered despite the fact that guards checked on prisoners at 10-minute intervals. Horton, reporting on interviews with four members of the military intelligence unit assigned to guard Camp Delta, suggests that the men died at "Camp No" (as in, "No, it doesn't exist"), an alleged black site at Gitmo, and were then moved to the clinic. A massive cover-up followed. Official stories hastily changed from claims that the three men had stuffed rags down their own throats to the elaborate hanging plot."
"Rear Adm. Harry Harris, then the commander at Guantanamo, not only declared the deaths "suicides," but blamed the victims for "an act of asymmetrical warfare waged against us." And every piece of paper belonging to every last prisoner in Camp America was then seized, amounting to some 1,065 pounds of material, much of it privileged attorney-client correspondence."
"The bodies of the three alleged suicide victims were returned home to their families, who requested independent autopsies, which then revealed "the removal of the structure that would have been the natural focus of the autopsy: the throat."
If all that sounds believable, I have a lovely bridge to sell you.
But when Scott Horton's article appeared, in January, there was virtually no coverage by the media. Nor was there much press or TV coverage of the court's decision last week.
And the media silence was equaled by the White House and the Defense Department, leaving the public largely in the dark.
Being charitable, maybe that accounts for the deafening public silence that greeted these two events. We should have been outraged when the Defense Department issued its bizarre and totally non-credible report of the three "suicides." But we weren't. We were silent.
We should have been outraged when Scott Horton produced four eyewitness whistle-blowers who debunked the DOD's report. But we weren't. We were silent.
And we should have been outraged at the federal judge who threw out the survivors' court case against the government. But we weren't. We were silent.
Should we blame the media?
Well, yes, in part. These stories should have been page-one or primetime news. But the media was busy with other things. For example, while they weren't reporting on the military's Kafkaesque report, or Scott Horton's expose, or the judge who threw out the case against the government, they were devoting maximum space and time to the Tea Party phenomenon.
That's because the inchoate and irrational anger of the Tea Baggers produces conflict. And conflict is what the media thrives on. If it bleeds it leads!
But the media are not the only culprit here. We, the electorate, deserve a substantial part of the blame. Because most of us don't pay serious attention to much of anything that's going on in the world or in our country. If something piques our fancy, chances are it's because we've seen it on TV.
Which may account for our interest in the Tea Baggers.
The Tea Baggers have surely been on TV. They have virtually monopolized cable news for weeks. This band of bloviators may have no policy prescriptions, not even any rational analysis of what they're railing against, nor any coherent message beyond anger, but anger is apparently enough -- that's what seems to be resonating with so many Americans. The delicious irony is that most of them are too uninformed to understand that the people they're railing against are the very people who are trying to help them!
It was fascinating to watch the leaders of the Republican Party going through their ritual gyrations at CPAC - the annual conservative jamboree - last week to woo the support of the Tea Baggers. The party that spent us into historic deficits now attempting to join hands with the newest proponents of fiscal restraint!
But then I learned that the darling of the Tea Baggers, Glenn Beck, was to deliver CPAC's keynote speech. This is the same crazy-like-a-fox money-machine who said of Obama, "This president I think has exposed himself over and over again as a guy who has a deep-seated hatred for white people or the white culture...I'm not saying he doesn't like white people, I'm saying he has a problem. This guy is, I believe, a racist."
The same guy who said, after Sonia Sotomayor was nominated to the Supreme Court, "I think she is a racist. I think she decided things based on race. I think she says that a Hispanic woman, with the experience of being a Hispanic woman can make decisions that a white man can't make. I can't imagine saying that. That's like saying Hispanics can't make money decisions like them Jews."
As I thought of Glenn Beck keynoting CPAC, my mind wandered back to the days of Bill Buckley. How he would have loathed Glenn Beck! Agree with Buckley or not, he was a man of the mind. One could not but respect - nay, admire - his grasp of history, his no-nonsense rhetoric, his reason and logic. If Buckley were with us today, it's arguable that the demagogues who are now hijacking the American Conservative movement might never have reached their current pinnacles.
As some wise observer wrote, "Today's trumpeters of Buckley's fusionism are angry, loud, and shrill. They'll betray their positions and their principles to score short-term televised victories. They're driven by ratings and by vanity. They want to make it to the top by securing notoriety instead of respect. They've abandoned meaningful persuasion and have instead opted to fulfill the Postman prophecy that we'll amuse ourselves to death--and that's not funny."
Yet those who now rail against government are too ill-informed and too self-centered to recognize that there are wider issues to be railed against - and confusing suicide and murder is one of them.
So where is the outrage?
For the moment, I have to console myself with the knowledge that "Movements" like the Tea Baggers are not new in American history. Witness the Know Nothing movement in the mid-19th century. Like the Tea Baggers, the Know Nothings were nativists empowered by popular fears that the country was being overwhelmed by Irish Catholic immigrants, who were often regarded as hostile to U.S. values and controlled by the Pope in Rome. The Know-Nothings tried to curb immigration and naturalization; like the Tea Baggers they had few prominent leaders. Most ended up joining the Republican Party by the time of the 1860 presidential election. And the "movement" just vanished into the dustbin of history.
(The origin of the term "Know Nothing?" When a member was asked about
its activities, he or she was supposed to reply, "I know nothing.")
As for CPAC, I like the words of Mickey Edwards, who was a Republican congressman who chaired CPAC for five years as head of the American Conservative movement. He explained why he wasn't going to CPAC this year:
He wrote, "I'm not at CPAC because I believe in America. I believe in liberty. I believe that governments should be held in check. I believe people matter. I believe in the flag not because of its shape or color but because of the principles it stands for--the principles in the Constitution, the principles repeated and underlined and highlighted and boldfaced and italicized in the Bill of Rights. The George W. whose presidency and precedents I admire was the first president, not the 43d. It is James Madison I admire, not John Yoo. Thomas Paine, not Glenn Beck. Jefferson, not Limbaugh. Ronald Reagan would not have been welcome at today's CPAC or a tea party rally, but he would not have wanted to be there, either. Neither do I."
And neither do I.