Thursday, November 13, 2008

Arbeit macht frei

War Crimes.

Who do you punish for war crimes? They are ordered by a political leader, and carried on by soldiers, who are just doing their jobs.

"But executioners don't hate the people they execute, and they execute them all the same. Because they are ordered to? You think they do it because they're ordered to? And you think that I'm talking about orders and obedience, that the guards in the camps [Nazi concentration camps] were under orders and had to obey?...An executioner is not under orders and obedience. He's doing his work, he doesn't hate the people he executes, he's not taking revenge on them, he's not killing them because they're in his way or threatening him or attacking. They're a matter of such indifference to him that he can kill them as easily as not."

The above lines are taken from the book 'The Reader', which I recently finished reading. The book is about relationships, and the morality of war crimes. It is very well-written and in my opinion is a must read. If you haven't read it yet, I can't recommend this book enough. The film adaptation stars Kate Winslet, and the movie comes out in December.

In the book, the narrator, who had an illicit affair with a former SS guard when he was 15 years old, struggles with the moral dilemma: What does loving a Nazi make him? The narrator also belongs to the generation that grew up in Post WWII Germany, and has to not only deal with his own moral predicament but is also burdened with his nation's guilt.

In the past, I have compared the Holocaust to the genocide in Darfur. But reading Bernhard Schlink (the author)'s description of the concentration camps not only reminded me of Anne Frank and the plight she went through, but also about our modern-day version of Auschwitz, Guantanamo Bay. Guantanamo Bay was commissioned by the Bush administration so those with "terroristic" inclinations could be sent away to Cuba, where they wouldn't have to be treated according to the Geneva Convention treaties. Its defenders say the treaties of Geneva Convention don't apply to the Guantanamo detainees because Al-Qaeeda and Taleban terrorists are not uniformed soldiers, they don't belong to any particular country's military. Yes, they are not legitimate uniformed soldiers, but they are humans. Shouldn't we be treating all humans with respect!

The much revered Western value, innocent until proven guilty doesn't apply to Gitmo suspects. Upon their arrival they are already considered extremely dangerous, referred to as "enemy combatants", and are put through extreme abuse. They are not only denied legal liberties, but also face extreme torture.

The only Western foreigner left at Gitmo is Canadian born Omar Khadr. He was sent to Gitmo when he was only 15, accused of killing a US soldier. He has already spent 6 years there, and is 21 now. I am not gonna speculate whether he willingly committed the crime or not, that's for the jury to decide. BUT, a vulnerable child shouldn't be housed in the same prison as other grown men. Not much has been done to provide him with the same rights he would have had in his birth country.

The guards believe that the detainees deserve the treatment they are graciously bestowed upon at Gitmo. President-elect Obama has said he would put an end to the atrocities that go on in Guantanamo. But the question is where would he send them? So far out of 225 prisoners (mostly Muslims) only 23 have been charged. The crime of other 204 detainees: They have the ultimate horror of having Muslim names.

Once Gitmo is eventually closed down, would the guards be persecuted, like their SS predecessors? Till this day we still don't know enough about what actually goes on at Gitmo. Navy Lt. Cmdr. Matthew Diaz was court-martialed because he publicized the names of Gitmo detainees. Humanitarian organizations, such as the United Nations and Amnesty International have been denied access to the camps and the interrogation rooms.

I think the reason Holocaust still effects us because decades after decades we keep repeating the mistakes of Nazi Germany. There's always some ideology that prompts its adherents to wage a political vendetta against innocent people, who are guilty of having the "wrong" pigmentation, or belonging to the "wrong" religion.

Inside Guantanamo - Photo Essay
Inside the Interrogation of Detainee 063


changetheworld360 said...

Glad you're back! =D
Someone else recommended The Reader to me, so I've been meaning to read it for quite some time. The Holocaust definitely has its repercussions in the human rights issues of today's world. Gitmo is always an fascinating topic of discussion, primarily b/c of the fact that so many of them have been there for years but the US govt. denies them the right to a trial. And like so many other issues, it is yet another challenge President-elect Obama must tackle. Btw, I posted last week on the issues Obama faces, so if you want, feel free to comment!

Zany said...

Thanks changetheworld360 =).
Sorry I missed your Obama post, which was as always very well-written :).

Here's what Obama said about closing down Gitmo:
“We need to bring to a close this sad chapter in American history, and begin a chapter that passes the might of our military to the freedom of our diplomacy and the power of our alliances. And while we are at it, we can close down Guantanamo and we can restore habeas corpus and we can lead with our ideas and our values.”
-Richmond, VA, May 8th