Do You Remember Bobby Sands? [Catholics Blogging to Close Gitmo]

Susan Windley-Daoust (The Ironic Catholic) and Sherry Antonetti (Chocolate for Your Brain!) are launching one of those perennial Doomed Quixotic Efforts that makes Catholicism the Greatest Thing in the World.

See, we’re a little weird, and America has always rightly understood this and been suspicious of us. Our beliefs cut right across party lines. We value truth over the pretty lie, beauty over efficiency, sacrifice over selfishness, God over mammon.

Even when confronted with grave evil, we know that we must not sink into evil ourselves. We may not be able to save the world or even another life, but we know we must–must–save our own souls, and try to save as many other souls as we can in the process.

This is what causes us to break our lives in service to something higher. It’s what led the martyrs to sing on their way to death. It’s what led St. Maximilian to step out of line at Auschwitz and say, “Take me.”

See, there is something worse than misery, loss, and even death. There is damnation. And it is real. And the pit is always looking to swallow us up.

And so we must be better than the world.

That is why we don’t torture, even when the bomb is ticking. And that is why we don’t hold people in prisons conveniently located beyond the jurisdiction of our laws.

It’s why we have to, once and for all, close this chapter in our history and shut down Gitmo.

Susan and Sherry were prompted to start this blog-around by the news that many–if not most–of the 166 prisoners at Gitmo are on a hunger strike to protest their detention

The first name that came to mind when I read the story was, “Bobby Sands.”

Being an American of Irish descent, I was marinated in love for the old sod and hatred of English oppressors who divided the land and kept my brothers in chains. Active support–or at least tacit approval or excuse-making–for the IRA was rampant in the Irish-American community in the 1970s and 1980s. We might have shaken our head at a bombing and said it was wrong, but we still made excuses for it.

I was quite enamored of the IRA, the way dumb, thoughtless kids often are for grand and violent gestures aimed at injustice and tyranny. As time went on and the violence died down, I thought about it less, but it wasn’t until 9/11 that I really grasped full horror of what I supported.

It’s to my great and lasting shame that it took that long.

When I read about prisoners going on a hunger strike, I went back in my mind to 1981 and the ten men at Maze prison who starved themselves to death to demand political prisoner status. Led by Bobby Sands, the men wasted away and died, causing humiliation for the British government and a huge boon for the IRA and other anti-colonial factions in Northern Ireland.

The men became martyrs and heroes. I remember seeing their faces on posters and t-shirts. People wrote books and songs. The Provos and their US apologists used the incident to milk money from dumb Americans for years.

In the process, many lost sight of a simple fact: these men were terrorists. Sands was implicated in a bombing and involved in a gun battle with the police. He was finally imprisoned on a weapons charge. He was a violent man.

The IRA in the 1970s and 1980s were not a revolutionary force anymore. They were just thugs and murderers: people who would blow up musicians and murder a war hero and his teenage grandson, and claim it as some kind of brave political statement rather than a raw act of cowardice. They were scum.

Yet the English treated them better than anyone brought to Gitmo. Bobby Sands was indeed in prison, where he died trying to make a foolish point.

But he was only imprisoned after a trial. He wasn’t disappeared into the shadows of an unaccountable complex located on a spit of land in a foreign, hostile nation. He was kept in a prison 9 miles south of Belfast. Somehow, the Empire did not crumble because of this.

I have little doubt that the majority of people in Gitmo are violent men. If released, they would probably take up arms and plot against us.

But here’s the thing: like most actual conservatives, I don’t trust the government. I certainly don’t trust any system that claims the right to hold people indefinitely without trial, even if those people are my enemy. Especially if those people are my enemy. The law must be just, even when the person is not. Justice does not serve the criminal: it serves society.

Margaret Thatcher let the Maze hunger strikers die rather than concede their point and treat them as something more than just garden-variety gangsters. We’ve done the opposite. We’ve made ignorant fanatics into political prisoners.

Closing Gitmo will not be easy. Figuring out what to do with these men, how to try them, and where to put them will be a challenge. It will not be convenient. Some of the men may well be completely innocent. We will look bad. The terrorists will get a propaganda victory. The spectacle of a terrorist standing up in open court to proclaim his jihad will be simple nauseating.

Tough. We need to do it anyway.

We do it because if we are not better than the monsters we fight, we deserve to lose. America doesn’t stand for power or victory or prosperity. It stands for freedom and justice. We’ve lost sight of that. Our freedoms are eroded, and our justice is sold to the highest bidder. Perhaps we need to reset our course. Perhaps we need to put the last 11 years behind us, and prove to the world that the greatest nation on earth no longer fears 166 bearded fanatics. Most of all, we need to get right with God, who does not smile on the unjust man.

However we do it, and however hard it will be, the time has come. We must close Gitmo.


Frank Weathers:  Message From the Front Lines of “Operation Enduring Travesty”

Mark Shea: Close Gitmo

Erin Manning: Monstrous inhumanity at Gitmo