Wednesday, January 14, 2009

"Returning to the fight"

Osama bin Laden has been keeping up with George W. Bush's approval ratings. In a new audiotape released today, the former freedom fighter commented that 75% of the American people are ready for a new president.

I think it's safe to say, too, that the American people are also ready for a new adversary. Bush and bin Laden have something in common---both catalysts for global warfare have reached retirement age.

But, next up at bat, President -elect Obama points to the bin Laden tape as evidence that the "war on terror" is far from over, pledging to move the theatre of battle from Baghdad to Kabul. What will he use for funds, or does he intend to finance the military with what's left of Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac? What happened to the idea of recycling that $10 billion a month now spent in Iraq?

Hillary Clinton seems to agree with Obama that being at war wasn't a mistake; we picked the wrong battlefield. And, reportedly, Obama has given heads-up to the Pentagon to send something like 30,000 more US troops to Afghanistan.

The Pentagon is also getting ready to be busy on another front---the spin front. Oh, as we've seen from the early days of shock and awe, this is nothing new for the Pentagon. It merely signals what you might call a return to the fight.

According to the Defense Intelligence Agency, 60 detainees, who have been released from Gitmo, have fallen off the wagon, and are now believed to be engaging in terrorist acts; keywords---believed to be. About one third of the released have been described as "returning to the fight." Isn't it reassuring to know that detainees aren't the only ones who are ready for a renaissance of combat. We are, too, only we're moving the frontier to Afghanistan. Maybe it belonged there in the first place, but what happened to the first place---seems to me we left it behind five years ago.

What compelling timing, too, to release a report that describes high rates of recidivisim among released detainees---right around the time an incoming commander-in-chief announces his decision to close Gitmo. The Pentagon isn't shy either about making it known that it wants to continue to hold about half of the 255 currently at Gitmo, indefinitely, without charges, and without access to the evidence against them, and despite the absence of any tangible threat against America or Americans.

A Pentagon spokesman claims that the rate at which detainees return to nebulous, and nondescript, acts of terror has risen by more than 10%, and that these threats are no longer limited to Iraq, but can occur in Afghanisan, and "around the world."

Isn't torture an act of terror? Consider the stunning statement today from Susan J. Crawford, the person Robert Gates appointed two years ago to be one of the Bush administration's key military trial overseers. Ms. Crawford has concluded, unequivocally, that Gitmo detainee "Mohammed el-Qahtani was tortured," and that any evidence obtained from his interrogations is inadmissible in court.

If the response to Osama bin Laden's commentary is that the war isn't over, it's merely relocating, can we expect to see more of the same from Obama, despite the rhetoric, and is this why the CIA is now willing to provide liability insurance to nearly two-thirds of its interrogators?

If not, then President-elect Obama must show that closing the detention center at Guantanamo Bay is more than a symbolic gesture , and not like sentencing someone to die, and housing them on death row for the remainder of their lives.

We must ask ourselves if those we release from detention are the only ones who pose a grave risk to global security by returning to the fight. We do, too.

The time to eliminate Osama bin Laden was five years ago. He is now a figurehead, a cliche, and it would be naive to think that by ridding the world of bin Laden, we'd be getting rid of the potential for terrorist acts.

Recidivism begins at home. We must not return to the fight, but to the table. The use of military force provides only short-term solutions. Only through sustained dialogue, education, understanding, and a spirit of compromise can we ever hope to overcome man's inhumanity to man.