Defending the virtues of liberty, free markets, and civilization... plus some commentary on the passing scene.
Wednesday, February 18, 2004
Guantanamo Bay and Living Standards
How high is our standard of living compared to the rest of the world? So high that our terrorist detention centers often provide prisoners with more amenities (like food!) than the backwards lands from which they were plucked:
NAW ZAD, Afghanistan -- Ismail Agha was a slight, illiterate village boy of 13 when his family last saw him 14 months ago. When he reappeared last week, he was 3 inches taller, his voice had deepened, his chin had sprouted a black beard, and he had learned to read, write and do basic math.
Saddam's prisons had electricity too, unfortunately it wasn't of the type that could be flipped on and off at the prisoners will. Oh, and it was plugged into their private parts not an overhead reading light.
Agha's transformation occurred mostly in a place called Camp Iguana, a seaside compound within the U.S. naval base in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, where he and two other young Afghan teenagers suspected of belonging to the extremist Taliban militia were confined together for more than 12 months until their release Jan. 29.
The detention of minors at Guantanamo, where about 650 people with suspected links to Islamic militants are being held, has been criticized by human-rights groups.
But Agha, who spoke with a foreign journalist Wednesday in this town in the southern province of Helmand, described his experience as closer to being in a tropical boarding school than a prison.
"Me go to Cuba, speak English now," he said with a proud grin as he sat in the police station in Naw Zad. Agha's native village, Durabin, is a poor farming community in the mountains
Transplanted to a modern U.S. military base half a world away, the shy youth said he saw the ocean for the first time, played soccer, slept in an air-conditioned room and showered twice a day after growing up in a village without plumbing or electricity.
"We could even turn the lights on and off when we wanted," he said, lapsing quickly into native Pashtu.
Once he arrived at Guantanamo, Agha said, there were no more questions and no more threats, only school, exercise, Muslim prayers and dorm life with two other young Afghans he had never met before. He said both were from Paktia province, one his age and one a little younger, and that he knew them only as Asadullah and Naqibullah.
What happened when it was time for Agha to leave for home?
The boys lived in a house with several rooms: a shared sleeping room and an adjoining room for eating and studying. On one side they could see the ocean, but the other three sides were blocked by high walls and barbed wire, and they never saw or spoke with the adult prisoners. They wore red pants and shirts at all times.
Each day, Agha said they were taught English, Pashtu and basic math by Afghan-American teachers. They were also given copies of the Koran. Each night, four U.S. soldiers took turns sleeping in the second room. On Wednesday, he asked to send greetings to all of them but said he never learned their names.
The most difficult aspect of his confinement, Agha said, was being out of contact with his family and worrying about them. As the oldest son, his father depended on him to help support the family.
"They gave me a party and said I could have anything I wanted to eat, so I asked for Pepsi and chicken kabob," he said. Then he and the other two boys were put on a plane, again in shackles but this time without being hooded.
"I didn't recognize my son even when he came up and kissed my hand," Hayatullah said. "He was much taller and a little fatter, and he had a beard. Also he told me he had learned to read."
The old man sat up and smiled. "My son got an education in America."
Agha is far from the first to come home with some extra weight, Slate first reported on the "Guantanamo 13" last May:
Is America the only country in the world that could run a prison camp where prisoners gain weight? Between April 2002 and March 2003, the Joint Task Force returned to Afghanistan 19 of the approximately 664 men (from 42 countries) who have been held in the detention camps at the U.S. Naval Base in Guantanamo Bay. Upon leaving, it has been reported, each man received two parting gifts: a brand new copy of the Koran as well as a new pair of jeans. Not the act of generosity that it might first appear, the jeans, at least, turned out to be a necessity. During their stay (14-months on average), the detainees (nearly all of them) had gained an average of 13 pounds.And without McDonald's!?!
Governments all over the world imprison citizens simply for their religious beliefs. By contrast the United States takes measures to ensure that captives may continue to practice their religion, even if it was a warped version of those beliefs that drove them to take up arms against us in the first place.
Parties, food, education, fresh copies of the Koran, indoor plumbing, and electricity. With all the real human rights atrocities being committed in places such as North Korea, it seems a bit wasteful to spend resources criticizing the treatment of suspected terrorists, captured in battle, that are allowed religious freedom and fed full meals (in Afghanistan people often boil grass to survive). If anything, releasing them back to the Middle East may make thier lives worse.