June 14, 2006
That a State Department official called the suicide deaths of three prisoners at Guantanamo Bay "a good P.R. move" is bad enough. But here's the kicker: that official, Colleen Graffy, is the deputy assistant secretary of state for public diplomacy.
"Taking their own lives was not necessary, but it certainly is a good P.R. move," Graffy said of the deaths. Drawing on knowledge gleaned from work "on improving the United States' image abroad, especially in Islamic countries" (a detail The New York Times pulled from her State Department bio), Graffy elaborated on her remarks on the BBC show "Newshour": “It does sound like this is part of a strategy--in that they don't value their own lives, and they certainly don't value ours; and they use suicide bombings as a tactic."
The Bush Administration hurried to distance itself from its diplomat's remarks. But why bother? When Abu Ghraib and Haditha are our calling cards in Iraq, and John Bolton, who said it wouldn't matter if the top ten floors fell off the U.N. Secretariat building in New York, is our representative to that body, what difference does it make if State Department officials start making light of deaths in U.S. custody, and referring to all of those Arab-terrorist types as an undifferentiated group of suicide-bombing fanatics? Isn't this what the war on terror is all about, anyway? Simplifying a whole mass of different peoples into one big "them" that we're fighting "over there" so we don't have to fight them here? (Iraq, Afghanistan, Yemen, Saudi Arabia--what's the difference?)
Graffy, by the way, is a graduate of Pepperdine University, the academic citadel of rightwing politics. It hired Ken Starr and trained legal scholars who pursue a religiously inspired theory called "natural law." By installing ideologues like these at every level of the federal government, the President has given over public policy and diplomacy to the lunatic fringe.
Increasingly, voices of reason, even within the Bush Administration, have called for the closure of Guantanamo. That prison is notorious for the ill treatment of prisoners, who are held in legal limbo in an offshore facility, without charges or recourse to normal due process.
The specter of torture hangs over the place, clouding the image of American democracy and fairness.
In Britain, where Graffy made her remarks, the reaction has been particularly negative, and calls for the closure of Guantanamo have gotten louder. A Reuters-UK article on the subject noted, "Nine British citizens have been held in Guantanamo Bay. All returned to Britain and none has been charged.
Several appeared in media interviews over the weekend in which they said they were not surprised that inmates had killed themselves."
If only as a "good PR move", it's time for the Bush Administration to close Guantanamo down.