The suicides of three inmates in the US gulag at Guantanamo Bay have US officials screaming “foul.” One says the suicides were “a good PR move.” Another says they were a form of asymmetrical warfare, and still another invoked 911 as a comparably unpredictable and diabolically clever act.
The common thread is that the US is the real victim of the suicides, not the dead men themselves. Those men had, says Admiral Harry Harris, the head jailer at Guantanamo, “no regard for human life, neither ours nor their own. I believe this was not an act of desperation but an act of asymmetric warfare against us.”
Colleen Graffy, who serves as the deputy to Karen Hughes, the state department’s top public diplomacy official, said the suicides were “not necessary but it certainly is a good PR move to draw attention,” a statement sure to win the hearts and minds of anyone in doubt about the US commitment to human rights.
General Bantz “Bull” Craddock, head of the US Southern Command, the man responsible for the war in Iraq, made the comparison to 911.
“Look, it’s much like, I think, the 911 tragedy in that we took things that were routine, an everyday common airliner, and it was turned into a weapon,” he said. “You can take a bed sheet, you can take a blanket you can turn those into means to take one’s life, it’s been done before.”
Some parallels are more obscene than others.
Insistently absent from any official assessment of the suicides is the possibility that the men were simply tired of facing endless imprisonment with no charges, no trial and no legal representation, and chose to kill themselves rather than continuing to live lives that were as near to pointless as any could be. Probably they did mean their deaths to serve as statements about Guantanamo and the US policies it represents; if so, the US might wish to concern themselves more about how we came to be in a position where these suicides could be perceived as “a good PR move.”
Harris, he of the “life means nothing to these men,” inadvertently contradicted himself when he suggested that the suicides might be related to a rumor in the camp that everyone would be released if three men died, a suggestion that casts the suicides in something of an altruistic light.
Craddock added to the unconscious irony when he first warned against speculating about the motives of the three men and then speculated about their motives.
Defense attorneys and critics of the prison project blamed despair among the 460 or so captives for the first deaths at this offshore detention center, which opened in January 2002.
But the Pentagon’s Southern Command chief visited the prison camps Sunday, and would have none of it.
“I wouldn’t want to speak for the detainees. I think that’s speculation and that’s dangerous,” said Army Gen. Bantz Craddock.
He then noted that, with the Supreme Court to decide shortly whether President Bush’s war court is constitutional, “this may be an attempt to influence the judicial proceedings in that perspective.”
There’s speculation and then there’s speculation. There’s speculation that the dead men were victims of a genuinely Kafkaesque circumstance, and there’s speculation that the US is the victim of the dead men. The former is forbidden, the latter, apparently, required.
Our government’s insistence that this country is above the law is embarrassing and dangerous and diminishes us all, but not nearly so much as the embattled adolescent world view informing their actions. It’s long past time they, and their supporters, grow up.
UPDATE: The state department is having second thoughts about the public diplomacy value of describing the suicides as a good public relations move. State department spokesman Sean McCormack now says “we would not say it was a P.R. stunt.” That’s encouraging: it only took two days for the nerve signals from a shot up foot to reach the department’s brain.