Monday, June 06, 2005


Should we shut down the prison at Guantanamo Bay? Some have said "yes," others respond (I can't find the link now) that the same crap will just pop up somewhere else.

That's a fair point, but it fails to address the critique. We shouldn't just shut down Gitmo and shuffle the prisoners around. We shouldn't just dump them all out on the street, either. At the very least, they may not have wanted to blow things up before being abused in prison, but they are sure as hell pissed now. There may be a legitimate need to keep some people prisoner. I don't know.

There needs to be a new system for holding, interrogating, and releasing prisoners. No one wants to shut Gitmo down and call it a day. We need to stop the system of holding lots of brown people in jails scattered across the planet. We need a registration system, so we know exactly who is in jail, why, and for how long. We need a system by which people can move through the system rapidly if they have nothing of value, and a way to decide how to handle someone who wanted to hurt people but didn't, or someone who actually hurt people.

Damn but that sounds like a system of courts.

Let congress establish special courts with access to the normal appellate courts. If a guy without a uniform kills an American soldier, that's murder. Try the case and move on. If he worked with a couple other people, that's conspiracy. Someone stole the explosives, someone designed the IED, someone built it, someone placed it, someone triggered it.

Make plea deals to get low men on the totem pole to roll on their superiors.

When we declared war on drugs, we made some mistakes. One was creating a system that imposed harsh penalties across the board, and left no path for good people to get back to living their lives. Instead, we created the largest prison population in world history, and a society where a greater percentage of people are in prison than any modern society (including the Soviet Union). A little pot, coke, or meth can take away a person's youth.

The same thing is happening in Iraq and Afghanistan. In countries where AK-47s are legal, possessing a weapon and acting suspicious is enough to get you tossed on a plane to Gitmo or a truck to Abu Ghraib. Once there, there's no path to freedom, and no respect.

Right now, 60% of the federal prison population is in on a drug charge. Are drugs the greatest danger facing America? No, but the system of laws and sentences are all set up in a way that gives no opportunities to move someone back into the world.

The American Archipelago of prisons can be salvaged. There are dangerous people, and we need to hold some of them. We need to interrogate people, hold material witnesses to bombings, etc. We need to lock the ringleaders up forever and punish them appropriately. But we can't win the war on terror if we use the same tactics which failed us in the war on drugs.