The 'Stain' on America is a Stain on Us All

The arbitrary detention of prisoners in Guantanamo is a disgraceful stain the reputation of the United States.

But the really tiresome thing about disgraceful stains is that they are like easily transmissible diseases. We have seen two recent examples.

The first is the matter of Confederation government ministries [Switzerland is a confederation ], which passed the names and pictures of Swiss-held Islamists to American authorities to enable them to better-interrogate prisoners at Guantanamo. But how did they question them? Was it under torture, as they more or less admit takes place at this prison outside of their territory?

The second is the case of Franck-Walter Steinmeier , who was Germany’s Foreign Minister. In 2002 while serving on Gerhard Schröeder’s government, Steinmeier perhaps out of excessive discretion voluntarily left a young Turk born in Brême [Murat Kurnaz] who had no ties to terrorism to rot in Guantanamo. America’s shameful stain has thus contaminated two European states that are normally staunch defenders of human rights.

[Editor’s Note: Murat Kurnaz was held in extrajudicial detention at Guantanamo for four years. A Turkish citizen and legal resident of Germany, he was in the process of becoming a German citizen when he was arrested in Pakistan in late 2001. After being imprisoned for five years he was released and arrived in Germany August 24, 2006 ].

This alone is good reason for indignance. But it doesn’t stop here. After September 11 2001, the emotion was huge and planetary. “We are all Americans” is what we said then, and during those moments of madness, no government would have been caught appearing soft on the battle against Islamo-terrorism. Besides, during those months of collective emotion, the question had been put to the collective Western population: “According to you, is it necessary to strike terrorists without pity, even at the risk of killing innocent people?” An overwhelming majority would then have voted “yes.” Of that I am convinced. We needed to do what was necessary, isn’t that correct?

But here in the West, where public opinion has absolute freedom to say white on one day and black three months or three years later, governments on the other hand find themselves durably tied to the erroneous measures they took at the moment of maximum emotion. The Iraq war is a good illustration. It is a war that the American population at first massively supported, but that it condemns today – while the American government – which finds itself with nearly 150,000 troops on the ground in Mesopotamia – finds it impossible to withdraw U.S. forces with similar facility.

I thus draw from the issue of Guantanamo, beyond the indignation that, like many people, I feel at the very core of my fiber, at least two lessons:

First lesson: We, good people, are extremely fragile in terms of our convictions, morality in particular, and are therefore flip-flop rapidly from noble and humane demands directly to the opposite: cruel an inhumane ones. We are unreliable and inconsistent.

Second lesson: Every day, our fickleness incites us to accuse our governments of not doing what, according to us, “they evidently should do, and right away, please” – like for example: getting out of Iraq, creating a Palestinian state in the next two weeks, bombing Iran because it’s getting on our nerves, toppling the outdated regime in North Korea, saving the Third World, reforming the U.N., achieving universal peace – or the complete opposite of course. I therefore insist here that our governments are not really any different than us, the people – just a little less volatile and a lot less like weathervanes. It is in fact precisely for these qualities that we elected them.

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