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Continuing Embarrassment

The Guantánamo Bay prison in Cuba has increasingly become an embarrassment for the United States. In mid-February, a team of five inspectors from the United Nations Human Rights Commission in Geneva issued a lengthy report documenting human rights violations alleged to be taking place there. Commenting on the report, U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan has said that sooner or later there will be a need to close Guan-tánamo. Human rights violations noted in the report include indefinite arbitrary detention, denial of the right to a fair trial and coercive interrogation techniques that amount to torture.

Currently, the prison at the southeastern tip of Cuba holds some 500 detainees, most of whom were captured in the U.S.-led war in Afghanistan in 2001. Many have been held for over four years without trial. The United States rejects the call to close the prison, with Defense Secretary Rumsfeld denying that abuses take place there. He has said that the five U.N. staff persons who wrote the report turned down an opportunity to visit the facility late last year. They did so, however, only on being told they would not be allowed to interview prisoners. The U.S. government refers to them as enemy combatants who can be held without charge as long as the war on terror lasts. Rights advocates, though, point out that long-term detention without charges is contrary to human rights principles, andas the report observesunder international law the war on terror does not constitute an armed conflict. Amnesty International has welcomed the report, but notes that Guantánamo Bay represents only the tip of the iceberg, given the presence of U.S. secret detention facilities in other countries, along with the prison at the U.S.-run Bagram Air Base in Afghanistan.


Jar Jar Boehmer

At this year’s retreat for House Republicans, the new majority leader, John Boehner, presented an eight-minute parody of the classic film Star Wars, entitled Election Wars, in which Republicans are the battle-tested incumbent rebels poised to fight off Darth Nancy (Pelosi) and the evil Democrat Empire.

On the Daily Show, the comedian Jon Stewart questioned the analogy. Evil Democrat Empire? If we’re going to do the Star Wars analogy, at best, the Democrats are Ewoks. At best.

He went on to wonder: Why can’t the Republicans just admit it? You’re in charge. You control the White House, both houses of Congress, the Supreme Court. You’re not a bunch of ragtag rebels fighting the Empire. You’re the Empire.

Stewart is right. At this point, the Republicans are anything but ragtag rebels. On the other hand, it is not that long ago that Newt Gingrich and his disciples (cue music) boldly seized political power from the treacherous clutches of that feel-your-pain liberal Bill Clinton and his welfare-state wife, Hillary. Democratic candidates for president since then have been nearly as robotic as Darth Vader.

And the Star Wars reference yields some worthy comparisons. It is clear, for instance, that current Republican Party leadership is attracted to the forcethough in their hands we might want to rename it the Pre-emptive Force. The party is likewise adept at Jedi mind tricks: Saddam worked with al Qaeda, greenhouse gases are not a problem, the mission has been accomplished, and these aren’t the droids you’re looking for.

Mr. Bush’s tenure as president of late also calls to mind Yoda’s initial assessment of Luke Skywalker: Never his mind on where he was, or what he was doing. Now, if only it all were happening in a galaxy far, far away.

Whose Money Is It?

In response to the victory of Hamas representatives in the Palestinian parliamentary elections, the Israeli government announced that it would freeze its monthly transfer of $45 million in tax rebates and customs payments to the Palestinian Authority. Hamas leaders have refused to retreat from their long-held ideological position that the state of Israel must be eliminated.

Former President Jimmy Carter is among those, however, who have argued that the United States and Israel should be wary of heavy-handed punishment of the new Palestinian government, since this could lead to greater resentment on the part of the Palestinian people, increase support for the Hamas leadership and reduce the chances of achieving a peaceful resolution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Besides, Mr. Carter observed in an article in The Washington Post, the money that the Israeli government is withholding is actually Palestinian money, customs and taxes collected from Palestinians by Israeli authorities. The funds returned to the Palestinian Authority are used to pay teachers, welfare workers and other civil servants. Mr. Carter’s remarks provoked predictable outrage in some quarters, but transfer of the funds is not discretionary. It is a matter of justice.

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