My father visited Guantanamo Bay, Cuba in 1953 as Marine First Lieutenant R. Lee Jenkins, the Executive Officer (or “XO” as they say in the Corps) aboard the USS Albany – the Flagship of the Atlantic Fleet. At that time, Guantanamo Bay was a plush naval station that any officer or enlisted man sought as an assignment given its beautiful Caribbean setting and the opportunity to catch “langostas” – giant lobsters that would drag the ground when held out at arm’s length.
Today, it is the largest U.S. military detention center in the world housing some of the most notorious terrorists on the planet. Among its list of guests is Khalid Sheik Mohammed who is often referred to as “the mastermind of 9/11.”
It is also the focal point of the harshest criticism of President Bush’s war on terror and has stirred a major debate on Capitol Hill regarding the treatment of its detainees. The central question being: Do enemy combatants captured in the war on terror deserve the same protections under the Geneva Conventions?
President Bush has made it clear that his position is the detainee program is vital to our national security and must endure. He has resisted applying the Geneva Conventions until a big fight from within his own party led by former POW Sen. John McCain.
McCain’s basic position holds that among other things not abiding by the Geneva Conventions “puts our troops in greater danger.” More outspoken Democrats decry the whole place is an international disgrace and should be immediately closed.
But one has to wonder why we should afford these hoodlums the same protections of the Geneva Conventions considering that they aren’t a part of any recognized army or state and do not wear military uniforms or fight in the open battlefield?
We have all heard the criticism that there are gross abuses of torture at “Gitmo.” And I have read that these same terrorists who seek to bring death and destruction to our shores again are being given three square meals, access to religious and legal material and the opportunity to exercise and even play soccer in an open courtyard.
So which is it – a hellhole befitting mankind’s most despicable inhabitants or a high value military prison that seeks to over accommodate its detainees with respect?
I will not be able to post tomorrow as I am going down to Gitmo as the guest of the Dept of Defense… but I’ll report on Thursday, and you can decide!
I can be reached for comments or questions at firstname.lastname@example.org.