It is more than 30 years since "Midnight Express" hit the big-time and
was nominated for four Academy Awards, winning two, including one to
John Hurt for best actor in a supporting role. For those who saw the
visually tense, even electrifying film then, it still lingers in
memory, a depiction of what happens to prisoners who have somehow
offended their captors. After the release and the rave reviews one of
the screenwriters--Oliver Stone--said that the script did not portray
the Turks accurately. That, of course, is Stone's specialty in
historical drama, a mixture of truth and fibbing. Even Billy Hayes,
the American who was jailed for trying to smuggle hashish out of Turkey
and wrote a book about his experiences, complained that the movie
depicts "all Turks as monsters." And certainly all Turks are not and
neither are most. Still, Turkey wouldn't be in anybody's list of the
100 most gentle penal systems in the world. In any case, a few years
later Ankara closed the penitentiary down.
Like Abu Ghraib was shut down...and refurbished, its walls and floors presumably whitewashed and the prison itself purged of its memories.
And as Guantanamo will presumably be padlocked after the president paddles his Democratic congressional opposition on this matter into subservience.
As I wrote earlier, I believe that Guantanamo has become nothing more than a fetish. It derives from overheated campaign rhetoric with which, alas, Obama is stuck. U.S. courts can extend their authority even to an American military base on the island of Cuba, and they have. My suggestion that a high security penitentiary in Guam was not serious. Legally, it would change nothing.
The president has made a point both regarding the torture and other wanton abuse of Arab and Muslim prisoners. His argument that the very place, Guantanamo, and photos of prisoners there and elsewhere being tortured by the American military and American intelligence will further enrage Arabs and Muslims against the U.S. He is either innocent on this issue or insincere. No, I simply don't believe it. They need nothing so superficial as pictures to deepen the hatred of those who hate us. Let us be frank: nearly every Arab country and most Muslim countries do not protect against torture. It is, I would say, assumed by anyone in prison for political crimes, at least, that they will feel the lash of the whip, many times over. And more.
That was the whole purpose of rendition, to get allies to extract information that we cannot comfortably or legally extract. Why do you think Arab terrorists were sent to Jordan? To have tea with Abdullah and Rania? Or to Egypt? To smoke a hookah with Mubarak?
An intriguing article appears in today's New York Times. Entitled "U.S. Relies More on Allies in Questioning Terror Suspects," it is by two seasoned and astute journalists, Eric Schmitt and Mark Mazzetti. They write that "the current approach seeks to keep the prisoners out of American custody altogether." But who do you think organizes the operation in which Pakistani commanders pick up a Saudi or Yemeni Al Qaeda terrorist? Their fate? The Times observes that, "as a safeguard against torture...the United States would rely on diplomatic assurances of good treatment."