Gitmo Issues Are Not New

At first the use of Gitmo as a detention and prison facility for prisoners captured during the was on terror raised only a few eyebrows.  Most people seemed to agree that it made sense to use a special prison for this purpose and having them outside the country made sense also.  No one wanted those guys here on American soil.  The overwhelming majority of Americans didn’t have a clue about any legal arguments that were created by having them on American soil, they just had a gut reaction that they didn’t want them here.   With conditions so chaotic and in a state of war in Afghanistan and Iraq it didn’t make a lot of sense to keep the hard core prisoners there very long.  There was legitimate concern that a jail break out attempt would be made.  Even if unsuccessful, the propaganda value to the bad guys would be enormous; there was also the unnecessary danger to our own troops.   After the negavtive publicity from the Abu Ghrab prison incident then arguments about Gitmo became much more heated.  There were those who believed that the prisoners should be treated exactly the same as anyone accused of a criminal violation in the US and others believed that anything goes if it was for the purpose of extracting information to save American lives.  Then there were all the variations in between those two extremes.   Mixed up in all the debates were some pointed legal arguments on both sides.  Those arguments were all legitimate and raised valid issues.  It is to be expected that the smell and sound of gunpowder will always prevail over the sound of the gavel during times of war.  That is not necessarily a bad thing either.  If you don’t have the former then the latter likely will not matter at all.  You have to prevail on the battle field to protect freedoms that can be enjoyed during peace.  Ask any veteran of WWII about some of the things he saw and observed.  Remember the incident in the Band of Brothers by Ambrose when the Lieutenant gunned down German prisoners without any provocation or justification?  Those things happen during war.  It doesn’t mean they were weren’t on the side of the Angels and right during the war, it just means war is very ugly. 

When Napoleon was captured by the English in 1815 by a bit of trickery, his position raised really serious questions about what to do with him and what could be done with him.  In England there was a diversity of opinion.  There were many who had been sympathetic to the French revolution all along and still were.  Joseph Priestly, the scientist and theologian (founder of the Unitarian church) was one of the leading lights of such a view.  They were loyal to King and country but wanted to see serious changes in the democratic process and thought the French Revolution had many positive features.  Napoleon was a rock star to many around the world.  There were figurines and cameos and other Kitcshy stuff featuring him.  Of course there were many who viewed him as nothing more than a pure terrorist and murderer.  They believed he was bent on moving a mass army from one quarter to another to wreak havoc and destruction and totally destroy all established order in the secular and religious world.  The French Revolution was very hostile to the Catholic church. Napoleon recognized the p0wer of the church and was never openly hostile to it personally.  That is why he had the Cardinal there for his coronation and reached a concordant with the Church.  Hitler did the same thing, but that is another tale.

Some argued that Napoleon should be brought to England and put in the dock and tried for criminal violations.  That troubled many because it was hard to conclude exactly what crime he had committed.  He certainly had committed a crime on English soil.  The others argued he could be tried as a murderer on the lam.  Naturally many took the position that he was an enemy captured during war and thus a POW and not entitled to any protections afforded British citizens in their courts.  He was at the mercy of the victor in the war as had been true throughout known history according to this view.  Some worried about whether he would be able to invoke a writ of habeas corpus to obtain his freedom.  There was a libel case pending in England that involved Napoleon at the time.   He was probably not even aware of its existence.  A subp0ena was issued from the English court for Napoleon.  The British Navy was determined they would not surrender their captive except upon orders from the Admiralty.  The Admiral in charge of the ships that held and retained Napoleon took to the high seas for a time merely to avoid there civil authorities coming to the ships and serving the subpoenas.  They were defying civil authority.  The ultimate resolution of what to do with Napoleon was determined politically.  Treaties and international concerns prevailed.  They didn’t want to execute him because they were afraid it would only create a martyr and stir up the French to insurrection.   They didn’t want to set him free and there  was no country willing to let him come and stay except the US and even that was not a universal belief. 

So, Napoleon was packed off to St. Helena.  Look it up on the map.  You can see how remote it is even today.  In 1815 it was really remote.  His exile was a political compromise about what to do with a dangerous and difficult prisoner that had serious PR implications whatever the ulitmate decision.  There is nothing new under the Sun.

Some folks at the Town Hall meetings want their voices and views heard.  They are not there for “debate” but to let their representatives know how they feel and what they want.  So many of the politicians come out with these canned answers.  Pelosi talks about a reasoned debate.  She overlooks the right of the people to voice their own opinion and the right of the people to reject the positions of the representatives.  She didn’t understand the Tea Parties and she obviously doesn’t understand the town hall uproar.  I was at a Tea Party and not for any party or organization.  It was to oppose big and intrusive government just like the people showing up now at the town halls.


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Filed under Foreign Affairs, history, law, military history, Politics, War

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