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Out of Guantanamo and into... Bagram?

Updated on July 15, 2009

Do ethics and ideals apply at all times, or only when other people are watching? What about when people may be monitoring us but no one makes a fuss? That is, are ethics internally or socially imposed? What can change them?

(Disclaimers: I love Barack Obama. I hate torture. Okay, read on.)

President Obama has decided to "adhere to the policies of the Bush Administration" regarding the detainees at the Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan. This means that it will still undergo a $60 million expansion.

His second day in office he vowed to shut down Guantanamo Bay within a year, but he's still planning to expand Bagram? The expansion will allow it to hold five times the amount of prisoners currently in Guantanamo, effectively rendering the symbolism embedded in shutting down the Cuban base irrelevant; we are just moving it.

Outsourcing Justice

Prisoners at Bagram are not officially charged with any crimes and can be held indefinitely. They are not necessarily Afghan natives, but because of the base's location in a theatre of war, apparently their immoral imprisonment is tolerably moral.

Will Bagram be Obama's Guantanamo?

Obama says he will need at least six months to review the facts before making a decision, but for now his administration will continue the plans of the last administration (which Obama so viciously denounced).

But what facts will he be reviewing? It is common knowledge that two inmates died at Bagram in 2002 after extensive torture, and even though conditions have reportedly improved since then, the International Red Cross has petitioned the United States government to reconsider the conduct at the air base. (The claims in this entry about Bagram come from this article.) At a cursory glance, it seems like Bagram is not "consistent with our values and our ideals," as Obama declared that Guantanamo was not.

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The Two Places

If these two bases (read: "internment camps") are effectively the same, why treat them differently? The administration says, for now, that the war theatre makes all the difference; holding war criminals without charging them jibes better with our ideals when we keep them in the war zone than when we fly them across the world.

But there is also a big difference in the attention each place has received. Guantanamo Bay has stood for years as a symbol of the Bush Administration's autocratic, over-the-top War on Terror.

By shutting it down, Obama meant to show American citizens that he meant to change the status quo by returning back to the true American moral code: all men are created equal and have the right to justice. This, apparently, applies only to people who are under the bright light of the media.

What will happen when the media turns to shine its lights into the eyes of Bagram? Will Obama be able to supply the peaceful, just answers we are all craving for the war-trodden Middle East? Or will he simply feel forced by all the frenzy to shut down Bagram without any plan for a system to take its place?

Ethics may be liquid, but only to a certain point. If America has any moral code, it still has to apply everywhere, war theatre or not.


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