Sunday, May 04, 2008

Gitmo, Leadership, and British Cats: Recommended Reading for a Sunday Afternoon

Well now this is amusing. Normally I crosspost from Wayward to MyDD, but today, it's the other way around. You might check out the third thread of the original post's comment section for an exchange between myself and an Iraq War veteran.

As far as I'm concerned, anything Nick Kristof writes is required reading. I can hardly say the same for the increasingly self-important Thomas "Six Months" Friedman, but today's column reminds us how he got his cushy gig in the first place.

Kristof's "A Prison of Shame, and It's Ours" chronicles the stories of several innocent people locked up in Guantanamo Bay, providing a compelling argument for why we need to close the place yesterday:

Mahvish Rukhsana Khan, an American woman of Afghan descent who worked as an interpreter, has written a book to be published next month, "My Guantánamo Diary," that is wrenching to read. She describes a pediatrician who returned to Afghanistan in 2003 to help rebuild his country -- and was then arrested by Americans, beaten, doused with icy water and paraded around naked. Finally, after three years, officials apparently decided he was innocent and sent him home... The new material suggests two essential truths about Guantánamo:

First, most of the inmates were probably innocent all along, but Pakistanis or Afghans turned them over to America in exchange for large cash rewards. The moment we offered $25,000 rewards for Al Qaeda supporters, any Arab in the region risked being kidnapped and turned over as a terrorism suspect.

Second, torture was routine, especially early on. That's why more than 100 prisoners have died in American custody in Afghanistan, Iraq and Guantánamo...

When I started writing about Guantánamo several years ago, I thought the inmates might be lying and the Pentagon telling the truth. No doubt some inmates lie, and some surely are terrorists. But over time -- and it's painful to write this -- I've found the inmates to be more credible than American officials.

Both Condoleezza Rice and Robert Gates have pushed to shut down Guantánamo because it undermines America's standing and influence. They have been overruled by Dick Cheney and other hard-liners. In reality, it would take an exceptional enemy to damage America's image and interests as much as President Bush and Mr. Cheney already have with Guantánamo.

January 20 can't come soon enough. 261 days left...

In "Who Will Tell the People?", Friedman looks at America's crumbling power and economy, and suggests that it will take bold leadership and vision to restore us to our previous heights.

We are not as powerful as we used to be because over the past three decades, the Asian values of our parents' generation -- work hard, study, save, invest, live within your means -- have given way to subprime values: "You can have the American dream -- a house -- with no money down and no payments for two years."...

A few weeks ago, my wife and I flew from New York's Kennedy Airport to Singapore. In J.F.K.'s waiting lounge we could barely find a place to sit. Eighteen hours later, we landed at Singapore's ultramodern airport, with free Internet portals and children's play zones throughout. We felt, as we have before, like we had just flown from the Flintstones to the Jetsons. If all Americans could compare Berlin's luxurious central train station today with the grimy, decrepit Penn Station in New York City, they would swear we were the ones who lost World War II.

How could this be? We are a great power. How could we be borrowing money from Singapore? Maybe it's because Singapore is investing billions of dollars, from its own savings, into infrastructure and scientific research to attract the world's best talent -- including Americans.

I leave you with this third insightful commentary, Friday's "Get Fuzzy" courtesy the funny papers.


Jordan said...

I don't know enough about Gitmo to have as clear an opinion as you or that other you cite, but I'm sure he has his own biases as well.

With regards to the airport/infrastructure article; I'm not sure how to take that. I think it's a bit unfair to compare JFK airport as the standard terminal in the USA. I've recently flown out of the Idaho Falls, Boise, and Seattle airports and they come pretty close to that Singapore one described.

Also who makes the planes that fly out of the Singapore(or anywhere else for that matter?). Boeing, Lockheed, just American companies in general.

Nathan Empsall said...

Kristof is indeed a liberal, but one who tries give Bush the benefit of the doubt and won a Pulitzer Prize for his reporting from Darfur.

You Boeing comment kind of proofs Friedman's point. We have the ability to be better, just not the leadership or will to implement that ability properly. And also, JFK is much more standard that Idaho Falls, Boise, or Spokane and I think the average American flyer would agree. You and I are rural, but most Americans are urban. I've never been to JFK, so I can't speak to it, but the big airports like O'Hare, Atlanta, DFW, and JFK see far more traffic than the Boises.

Jordan said...

That's just my point, more traffic doesn't necessarily mean more typical. Most terminals in the US are about the size of Boise and I would imagine them of the near the same quality. If he's arguing that we need to clean up our big terminals (and not necessarily all) I can understand that better.

Nathan Empsall said...

Jordan, even if JFK isn't the typical airport, it is the typical airport experience. Add up the annual usage of every airport in Montana, Idaho, Washington, Wyoming, and the Dakotas, and I'll bet Atlanta alone still has you beat. Now what matters more, buildings or people? Would you rather improve five Spokane-sized airports (Spokane's 104k aircraft operations/yr x5= 520k/yr) or one O'Hare (959k/yr)?

I think pointing to conditions at the big hubs and destinations that more people use is far more reflective than pointing to conditions at the smaller airports so few visit. I'm a rural guy, but let's be realistic here. Remember also that it's the big airports that serve most international flights and thus represent us to the world.

Jordan said...

I doubt our airports is the first thing foreigners think of when they think about the U.S.A.

Nathan Empsall said...

Think of? No. See? Yes. And first impressions matter, if only subconciously.