Journal: News & Comment

Tuesday, November 02, 2004
# 8:15:00 AM:

I cannot vote today

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I live in Canada, but in Greater Vancouver, less than an hour's drive from the U.S. border. One of our most prominent local landmarks is Mount Baker, a volcano that lies southeast of us, in America, not in our own country. I grew up watching U.S. television, but knowing I was an outsider. I spent six summers in San Diego while I was growing up, and when we travel, my family is as likely to visit Seattle as Victoria or Whistler—travel time and expense are roughly the same for both. My kids have been to Oregon twice, but never to Tofino or Penticton.

If I could vote in today's American presidential election, I would choose Kerry-Edwards. The reasons are legion, but they can be distilled in a single name, not brought up often enough during this campaign: Guantanamo Bay. It symbolizes much about the attitudes of the Bush-Cheney administration, and those in the U.S. Congress and Senate who have supported it.

Guantanamo was chosen as a detention camp for prisoners from U.S. military campaigns in Afghanistan and elsewhere for one reason: because those who made the choice hoped that it would lie outside any normal legal jurisdiction—beyond the reach of U.S. courts and constitutional protections, beyond international treaties. A black hole into which prisoners could be thrown, without legal representation or communication with the outside world—without even being identified.

At Guantanamo Bay, America has responded to an attack by throwing out the rules. When challenged by September 11, George W. Bush and his colleagues fell back on the path taken by despotic regimes throughout history—and today by China, North Korea, Iran, Sudan, and Castro's Cuba next door, to name a few. All choose to dehumanize the enemy (both real and perceived), not just rhetorically, but literally, denying prisoners their very existence in the eyes of the world.

The idea itself is shameful, especially coming from what is supposed to be the world's leading democracy. No doubt many of those jailed there are despicable people, but a mark of civilization is treating even despicable people (from Nazis on trial at Nuremburg to Jeffrey Dahmer and Slobodan Milosevic) as deserving of due process as well as scorn. While the Kerry campaign has not repudiated the Guantanamo prison, they have said at least some positive things. So, even if everything else were equal (and it is not), Guantanamo Bay would be reason enough to vote George Bush and his team from office. Their choice, at Guantanamo and elsewhere, has been to hollow out America's soul for dubious and short-term ends.

If you are an American and can vote today, I ask one thing: please remember Guantanamo Bay in your decision.


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