The Progressive Gitmo Myth

Bruce Thornton is a Shillman Journalism Fellow at the Freedom Center, a Research Fellow at Stanford's Hoover Institution, and a Professor of Classics and Humanities at the California State University. He is the author of nine books and numerous essays on classical culture and its influence on Western Civilization. His most recent book, Democracy's Dangers and Discontents (Hoover Institution Press), is now available for purchase.


protestamnesty-casmaron362480700_6c1ee905e8The swap of probable deserter Bowe Bergdahl for 5 “high-risk” Guantánamo detainees is about more than political public relations. By releasing some of the worst murderers, this deal prepares the ground for Obama’s long-term goal of shutting down the Guantánamo Bay detention facility and releasing the remaining detainees. According to Britain’s Daily Mail, a senior Pentagon official claims Obama nixed plans to rescue Bergdahl because “the president wanted a diplomatic scenario that would establish a precedent for repatriating detainees from Gitmo.”  Given that on his second day in office Obama issued an executive order shutting Gitmo down, and as recently as this year’s State of the Union speech repeated this pledge, his failure to do so has aroused serial complaints from his progressive base. With his reelection behind him, Obama may now think he can fulfill this promise, no matter the danger to our efforts to protect ourselves against terrorism.

For Obama’s liberal base, Gitmo has been part of a larger narrative of American tyranny, particularly George Bush’s alleged lawlessness in waging an “illegal” and “unnecessary” war in Iraq. Once Howard Dean’s anti-war presidential primary insurgency took off after the war began in 2003, mainstream Democrats began endorsing the far-left “Bush lied” analysis of the war that John Edwards, John Kerry, and Hillary Clinton had voted for based on the same intelligence that led to the Bush administration’s decision. With the anti-war movement providing the visuals for television news, the left’s distorted history of Vietnam was resurrected to provide the template for the war in Iraq, particularly the charge that the Bush administration had lied about Hussein’s WMDs, just as Lyndon Johnson had allegedly fabricated the Gulf of Tonkin incident to justify escalating U.S. involvement in Vietnam. Soon the whole litany of American militarist evils was applied to Iraq and the war against terrorists and their enablers. Torture, illegal detention, and abuse of prisoners were staples of that catalogue, and for leftists Gitmo fit the bill.

Soon we were hearing that Gitmo was a “gulag,” “the Bermuda Triangle of human rights,” a “shocking affront to democracy,” and a “national disgrace.” The New York Times, paying heed to charges by detainees trained to lie, said Guantanamo exemplified “harsh, indefinite detention without formal charges or legal recourse” and recalled “the Soviet Union’s sprawling network of Stalinist penal colonies.” Such hysteria, of course, has no basis in fact.

In 2004, a report by Albert T. Church III concluded, “We can confidentially state that based upon our investigation, we found nothing that would in any way substantiate detainees’ allegations of torture or violent physical abuse at GTMO.” Almost all the interrogations at Gitmo were conducted according to the Army Field Manual approved by Obama himself. Conditions for the prisoners at Gitmo far outstrip those in most prisons, including in the United States. Jihadists involved in planning, aiding, and participating in the murders of Americans can play sports, work out on gym equipment, hang out with their comrades, learn English, take art lessons, peruse a library of 14,000 Arab-language books, and view satellite television, including Al Jazeera. They get first-class health care and nutrition, and their food is prepared according to halal standards of ritual purity––all that good grub has led to the “Gitmo gut.” Islamic holidays are respected, Korans handled by guards with delicate care, magazines censored to remove images disturbing to pious Muslims, and arrows painted on the floors pointing to Mecca to guide the prisoners in their daily prayers. Rush Limbaugh is justified in calling Guantánamo “Club Gitmo.”

Yet despite these facts, the myth has arisen that the existence of Gitmo, as the Wall Street Journal summarized liberal thinking, “symbolizes prisoner abuse, serving as a propaganda tool for extremists and complicating counterterrorism efforts with allies.” The incoherence of this argument points to the larger problems of American foreign policy in dealing with jihadism.

First, our tendency to take seriously the malignant propaganda of our enemies bespeaks our civilizational failure of nerve. Since there has not been any “prisoner abuse” at Gitmo, why should we legitimize blatant lies the purpose of which is to erode our morale and serve the interests of disaffected Westerners? And given the horrific conditions and routine use of torture in most prisons in the Muslim Middle East, why should we for one second listen to any government or group in that region criticizing Gitmo? Our acceptance of this double standard does not confirm our superior virtues and principles, not when such acceptance emboldens the enemy and convinces him that we are too weak and decadent to do what it takes to defend ourselves.

Then there is the assumption that Muslims who practice jihadist terror are merely reacting to affronts perpetrated by Americans, rather than acting on their own motives. Bin Laden was the master of attributing his violence to an ever-shifting catalog of American sins––support for Israel, stationing troops in Saudi Arabia, participating in the 1983 Lebanon war, neo-colonial machinations to secure oil supplies, even failing to sign the Kyoto accords all appeared as pretexts for terrorism. But of course, this was propaganda for consumption by self-loathing Americans. In reality, as Ray Ibrahim’s Al Qaeda Reader documents, al Qaeda’s jihadism is driven by the venerable Islamic doctrines that for 14 centuries have spurred Islamic violence, and that are epitomized in Mohammed’s “great commission”: “I was ordered to fight all men until they say, ‘There is no god but Allah.’” Jihadists don’t need Gitmo, or Israel, or globalism, or any other material reason to attack infidels. Like the Hydra, every grievance we appease will be replaced by two more. Jihadists have plenty of religious motives for trying to destroy the culture that once trembled at Allah’s armies but that now dominates a world that Islam teaches is destined to be ruled by Muslims, the “best of nations raised up for the benefit of men,” as Koran 3.110 has it. But like our tendency to blame poverty or lack of political freedom for creating terrorists, this focus on material causes ignores the powerful role of spiritual motives for jihadist terror.

As for “complicating counterterrorism efforts with allies,” this again bespeaks our curious arrogance that reduces every nation’s behavior to reactions to our own. Our allies friendly or otherwise do not calculate their foreign policy on the basis of lofty moral principles we allegedly violate. They figure out where their own interests lie and act accordingly, taking into account their evaluations of our strengths and weaknesses. As Thucydides taught us long ago, nations that cannot achieve their aims by force often call on principle and “take up the cry of justice, a consideration that no one has ever yet brought forward to hinder his ambition when he had a chance of gaining anything by might.” When we credit the specious pretexts of our allies, who are pursuing national interests that very often conflict with our own, we make our policies hostage to the self-interested aims of others.

Finally, the idea that somehow we gain an advantage in our fight with jihadism by upholding standards of exquisite constitutional delicacy in our treatment of vicious terrorists is equally delusional. Giving terrorists Geneva Convention protections, for example, or constitutional rights reserved for citizens is not to our enemies a sign of strength. Quite the opposite. As the gleeful victory celebrations by the Taliban over the recovery of 5 of their top commanders show, it is perceived as weakness, failure of nerve, and lack of confidence in the rightness of our cause. A people who behead their enemies or eat their hearts are not going to be impressed with our generous provisions of constitutional rights and pro bono legal counsel.

The demonization of Gitmo driving Obama’s rush to close the facility and release more of our enemies is one more example of the “kick me” sign the left has pinned on America’s back for decades. It does not demonstrate strength in the eyes of our enemies, but merely confirms their conviction that we are weak and destined for defeat.

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  • herb benty

    In Islam, a “victim” of some perceived injustice may wait 100 years to get revenge. His relatives will “pay back” the perpetrators kids, kid. Islam is locked in time and the year is 650 AD.

    • BagLady

      They will always settle for a fistful of dollars as compensation. A bit like the Western system of ‘blame and claim’.

      • herb benty

        There is no comparasin between our sane wonderful civilization and insane backward Islam.

        • AnettaBiolettimso

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        • BagLady

          When Bush announced that Sunni Iraqi government employees must hand their jobs over to Shi’ites, it was a divisive act of insanity.

          • herb benty

            Cut the lies about Mr. Bush already! He urged a UNITY government between Sunni, Shi’ite, Kurds etc. He didn’t order anyone to give up their job- SODAMNINSANE excluded. Obama makes George Bush look like Abe Lincoln.

  • Anamah

    Islamist and Socialist suffer a severe mental disease.
    They are abnormal, unable to grow, nor flourish, stay with their crude, immature and elemental mind egocentrics so resented as little children grumbling of chronic devoid.
    Despicable tyrants, full of ignorance arrogance and sadism; incapable to share, pure hostility to the world.
    I have enough with these hypocrites rulers! we must stop these creepy dictatorial monsters.

    • SCREW SOCIALISM

      Red/Green Axis of EVIL.

      • disqus_Imoi7LGhwf

        You do realize Islamic terrorists hate socialism?

        • gwsmith

          Islamist tyrannies and socialists tyrannies are indistinguishable except that one worships Allah and the other the state. The one hope we have for Islam is that Sunni and Shia hate each other and will ultimately destroy each other in time, and Islam itself, but socialism is rooted in the fantasy of equality and fairness, which will be around so long as ignorance and childhood exist.

  • Hard Little Machine

    Look, if liberals want them freed, free them. To liberal congressional districts. I am 100% dead serious.

  • Atikva

    This is a GREAT article that says it all, thank you Mr. Thornton.

    More than these barbarous islamists, I blame my fellow Americans, those useful idiots who are so dumb that they never noticed the morphing of the ex-Democratic party into the islamo-socialist party to which they cling like lice to the hair. They are jeopardizing our security and the future of our children, they are destroying America. We have to unite and fight them together, whatever our political leanings, religion or lack thereof, it’s a question of survival.

    • BagLady

      How many citizens of the US have you lost so far this year from this scourge?

      You don’t have the excuse of lack of space to house aliens. I see photos of whole derelict towns in the Detroit area that could be populated by your immigrants.

      Can’t think of a decent city in the world that doesn’t boast a China Town and a Little India. Have these cities been destroyed?

      It’s just a case of moderation, which is an whole different problem.

      • Atikva

        ???

        • Softly Bob

          I’m not sure what she’s talking about either. I think she’s on the wrong page!

  • http://www.apollospeaks.com/ ApolloSpeaks

    WHY SHOULD BO BERGDAHL HATE PRESIDENT OBAMA?

    Click http://www.apollospeaks.com for the answer.

  • Donald J DaCosta

    The left believe that true strength lies in a non physically threatening posture. Moral courage and a vigorous defense of freedom are fictions fostered on innocents by patronizing purveyors of antiquated religious doctrines that are no longer relevant by modern standards. In its place are peace (appeasement), love, compassion, political correctness, sexual and religious freedom, pro choice, intolerant tolerance, uniform diversity, etc. A throw back and evolution of the “Make love not war” popularized in the late sixties, early seventies. Think the famed Woodstock festival in Woodstock NY when the backlash against the American effort in Vietnam to crush the communist Viet Cong was at its peak.

    Jane Fonda was villified for her apparent sympathies for the Cong as evidenced by an infamous film clip of her cavorting with Viet Cong troops in the midst of the war. She remains reviled by the military and older Americans who were embarrassed and outraged by such an open display of anti-American, anti-war sentiment from an established celebrity and youthful member of a prominent Hollywood family.

    While the war in Vietnam is no more, that mentality, that Judeo/Christian America is inherently an evil collaboration between religion, Corporate America and the military, three of the most hated entities among the progressive left, not only persists but has spread throughout American society with one of its more prominent adherents now situated in the White House. That all that he cares deeply about is reflected in the controversy, confusion, obfuscation and lies surrounding Gitmo should surprise no one and concern everyone.

    That last line in America’s national anthem is sounding more and more like the punch line in a bad joke.

    With regard to the negotiations to release Bowe Bergdahl, last night, June 8th, 2014, on the Mike Huckabee show a former Army Major, Rusty Bradley, was asked, “What should have been his (Obama’s) advice? What would you have done?” This is what he said:

    “If an insurgent contacted a member of my administration and threatened to kill a detained U.S. service member, I would have them put me in direct contact with their leader and I would tell them very clearly that if you harm him in any way for propaganda purposes, I will destroy you. I will set aside everything on my desk. I will use every asset available to me and the world will quickly forget that you ever even existed because I will absolutely dismantle you, and if I have to invade Pakistan to do it, that’s exactly what I’ll do.”

    The audience broke into spontaneous applause.

    Here’s the spin from the apoplectic left. http://crooksandliars.com/2014/06/former-army-major-tells-foxs-huckabee

    To those who are tempted to say, “Yes and look where Major Bradley’s attitude has gotten us given the current disarray in the war on terror and in Iraq and Afghanistan.” But these wars were not driven by the Major’s rules of engagement. These wars are driven by the progressive approach of using the troops that were trained and equipped to rein death and destruction on America’s enemies, to winning the hearts and minds because, don’t you know, every victim of American torture and oppression will fall on their knees in perpetual gratitude if only taught the anti American, progressive way. And how is that working out?

    • BagLady

      The left believe that true strength lies in a non physically threatening
      posture. Moral courage and a vigorous defense of freedom are fictions
      fostered on innocents by patronizing purveyors of antiquated religious
      doctrines that are no longer relevant by modern standards”

      Looking back at the many battles of the 20th century, it seems that, once a few million innocents had been sacrificed at the altar of national honour, the all-powerful sat down and reached the agreement they could have reached before the carnage.

      • Drakken

        Well sunshine, your going to see nationalism on steroids soon enough. The western man is really good at eliminating those of the 3rd world that are a problem when push comes to shove. Welcome to the new Balkans on steroids, and leftist communist like you have wrought this upon yourselves.

  • On B*rgdhal

    Undead pallor.
    Devoid of valor.
    Whore of allah,
    Denied Valhalla.

  • truebearing

    Underlying Obama’s Gitmo agenda is his belief that we deserved what the Taliban and Al Queda did to us. Obama is on their side, and as an ally of Islam and sworn enemy to everything about America — remember the words “fundamentally transform?” — he will release all of our enemies at any cost. It wouldn’t surprise me if his last act as president is a pardon for Khalid Sheik Mohammed.

    • BagLady

      An utterly inane remark.

      At the end of your ‘movie’ I expect Obama to don his ‘headrag’ and ride off eastward with wife and kids on matching camels.

      Pathetic. 2/10. Fail. Must try harder. Try applying a bit of logic if you want a better mark.

    • Softly Bob

      I agree.

    • Americana

      Where did this juicy thought come from? Pres. Obama doesn’t believe the United States got what it deserved on 9/11. I’ll place a bet w/you about your whole fallacious Khalid Sheik Mohammed lie. KSM is never going to be released. NEVER, not by ANY AMERICAN PRESIDENT EVER.

  • Christopher Riddle

    Obongo would have traded the”Royal Flush”of Terrorists to get back Benedict Arnold!Then he would have thrown Old Bennie a”Ticker-Tape”Parade!!Bergdahl was”Incidental”;It was the”De-Populating”of Club Gitmo(A Retreat From The Stress Of Jihad)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • meanpeoplesuck

      Typical RepubliNaziTard comment. How about showing the respect for the office that you TeaBangers claim to have?

      • Christopher Riddle

        I DO”Respect”The Office;I Have Nothing But LOATHING for the Racist,Marxist,America-Hating Occupant!!

        • BagLady

          but aren’t you just the antithesis of all that you loathe – a racist, Right-wing, xenophobe?

          • Christopher Riddle

            Not at all!I believe in”The Rule of Law”and The United States Constitution.If somebody”Breaks”The Law,I’m ABSOLUTE!!I don’t care which side of”The Aisle”they come from!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

      • Drakken

        Meas people suck, but nice little libtards like you swallow.

        • BagLady

          Drakken is tea-bagged and resorts to coarseness in his vain attempt to win an argument…… for once

          • Drakken

            Silly little communist like you really do try don’t you?

  • wileyvet

    Let there be NO mistake. Allah’s cause is religious warfare, Jihad. According to Islamic sources, The Koran, Sira and Sunnah, good Muslims are those who fight and die. Bad Muslims are those who wish to abstain from warfare and just raise their families and be productive. Allah hates bad Muslims. ( All verses from Yusuf Ali translation)

    Q9:19. Do ye make the giving of drink to pilgrims, or the maintenance of the Sacred Mosque, equal to (the pious service of) those who believe in Allah and the Last Day, and strive with might and main in the cause of Allah. They are not comparable in the sight of Allah. and Allah guides not those who do wrong.

    Q9:20. Those who believe, and suffer exile and strive with might and main, in Allah.s cause, with their goods and their persons, have the highest rank in the sight of Allah, they are the people who will achieve (salvation).

    Q9:111. Allah hath purchased of the believers their persons and their goods; for theirs (in return) is the garden (of Paradise): they fight in His cause, and slay and are slain: a promise binding on Him in truth, through the Law, the Gospel, and the Qur’an: and who is more faithful to his covenant than Allah. then rejoice in the bargain which ye have concluded: that is the achievement supreme.

  • Walter Sieruk

    The message is so important that it needs to be repeated,. Which is there is no question about it . These five islaic terrioris thugs chief will, in time, go back tothe deadly evils and extreme murderous violence of their militant jihadism of Islam, Sura 2:216. 9:111,112. 47 ;4. That is their wicked and dangerous mindset.
    No matter how much time they had spent at Gitmo nor any amount of good value teaching will cause them to turn from their heinous jihadist ways. As theancient Greek poet, Aristophanes wrote”The wisest of wise will never make a grab walk straight.” To explain this in another way, the Bible teaches in Ecclesiates 1:15.
    “That which is crooked cannot be made straight…” [KJV]

    • BagLady

      Regardless of your harping back to the Bible in an attempt to validate your argument, cruelty begets cruelty and, if the GITMO prisoners have been subjected to such inhumane acts (which seems to be the case), they will have naturally developed an hatred of their captors. Wouldn’t you?

      As a man of the ‘civilised’ world, do you not see the importance of a fair trial with actual evidence of guilt produced before the sentence?

      If your answer is negative, perhaps you should stuff your bible where the sun don’t shine.

      • Drakken

        Oh I know, if you have such love and moral equivalency for these Islamic savages, we should send them to live with you. Now that would be the perfect situation. When dealing with evil muslim savages, useless leftist idiots like you who love to preach the high moral ground and apply civilized standards to savages who don’t understand the concept, are suicidal and willfully ignorant, you and others of your leftist bent, without fail, are always buried in the high moral ground you profess to stand on. History is has always proved this to be true, and you ignore it at your own suicidal peril.

  • CapeLady

    Gitmo has to be the only prison where the inmates GAINED weight!

    • BagLady

      Yes well big yellow suits, huge shackles attached to legs and hands tend to weigh a great deal. Not much exercise when your legs can’t stretch more than 6 inches.

      You’re a bit of a nasty inhumane bitch, eh CapeLady

      • Drakken

        You have to be human in the first place to get that designation, everyone one of those muslim savages should be hanged and then fed to the sharks.

      • CapeLady

        You are only showing your ignorance – they are actually treated quite well at Gitmo – far better than they treated their victims.

        Beheading with a dull knife seems to be a favorite of theirs. You need to cast a wider net for information if you want the truth, because your liberal media outlets won’t give it to you! What are the soccer fields for if they are shackled all the time. And Obama wants to release one now because he took up yoga!

  • Drakken

    GITMO is the reason you do not take a muslim jihadist as prisoner, it avoids the political problem that gives the leftist do gooders ammunition to use against you. GITMO has one of the largest Hammerhead shark populations in the world, perhaps it is time to feed the sharks, a live jihadist today, is a lost American life tomorrow.

    • UCSPanther

      Some guys say that if the Americans were using M14s in A-stan, Canada wouldn’t have had that little Khadr punk returning home to be a possible menace.

      The Khadr family are as much loyal Canadian citizens as the German American BUND were loyal American citizens during WWII…

      • Drakken

        I still use one, it’s a tricked up version of the 14, called the M-25 topped off with a Smith & Bender.

        • BagLady

          I am not privy to your subset language but presume you refer to deadly weapons.

          ” I still use one……” On who, exactly?

          • Drakken

            Desert varmints.

    • BagLady

      The US has the highest per capita prison population in the world.

      Why is that?

      • Drakken

        Because unlike you Brits, we know how to lock up the most dangerous amongst us.

  • JayWye

    the real reason why Comrade Obama made this traitorous trade;
    “The Obama Doctrine can be described in just nine words: Embolden our enemies, undermine our friends, diminish our country.” Frank J. Gaffney Jr.

    Comrade Obama IS the muslim Manchurian Candidate.

    There’s a reason why,post-college,Comrade Hussein traveled to Pakistan,of all places. it’s not because he was a Christian. There’s a reason why Comrade Hussein was aided in getting into college by Saudi money and influence.

    It’s all part of his efforts to weaken the US economically,politically,and militarily.
    “once is accidental,twice is coincidence,three times is enemy action.”

    • BagLady

      Don’t be ridiculous. Obama is the salesman, the mouthpiece for those who truly rule the country. They are not in any shape nor form Muslims. You need to look much closer to home. Wall Street would be a good starting point.

      • Drakken

        Oh look, still trying to sell communism like it is a bright shinny new car. How many bloody times are you communist going to try communism until you come up with the right equation? Hint, it never has worked, and it will never work period, all you end up with is the stack of dead bodies.

  • Suzanne

    I can’t imagine what the families of those soldiers who were killed looking for Bergdahl must be thinking of this whole sorry business.

  • ObamaYoMoma

    Electing Obama was the same thing as electing Reverend Wright. There are no differences between the two whatsoever. Not with Bergdahl, not with anti-Americanism, not with Israel, and not with the MB. To foresee the future all you had to do was listen to one of Reverend Wright’s fiery sermons.

    • BagLady

      So, in your opinion, there will be terrible repercussions from this ‘enemy of the state’. They have said the same about numerous whistleblowers recently. I await the first example of ‘terror’ unleashed by these hapless idealists.

  • BagLady

    we found nothing that would in any way substantiate detainees’ allegations of torture or violent physical abuse at GTMO.”

    Pardon me for being naive, but I’d never seen people shackled hand and foot and kept in cages for years and years without charge of wrongdoing until I saw US prison camps. Even Cool Hand Luke had it easier.

    • Drakken

      Don’t wage Islamic jihad, and you don’t get shackled like the savages they are.

    • De Doc

      Cool Hand Luke was charged with destroying public property, not waging war on the US and committing crimes against humanity.

  • Dolly

    It’s been reported time and again since day-one at Gitmo that the inmates want for ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. Their every whim is nurtured. On the other-hand the troops that provide the 24/7 security to these inmates deal w/ continuous abuse, provocation,etc.etc. It’s a NASTY place for staff members.

  • USARetired

    Ubozo as I prefer to refer to Obama, will continue his devastating disasters in America until congress ‘Congress grows a pair’, and prosecutes this illegal alien for his crimes!