In 1991 the great country troubadour Travis Tritt wrote and sang these immortal words about an ex-girlfriend who had apparently had a change of heart and wanted to reconnect with her former sweetheart. Alas, as the songwriter penned, her man wasn’t buying it. Here’s a quarter, call someone who cares, he suggested. In 1991 a quarter was the cost of a local telephone call in those dinosaur-like objects we called pay telephones. They are as extinct as the Tyrannosaurus Rex is today — to everyone except my four-year-old friend Oscar who continues to experience their magic every day in his vivid imagination.
One year later in a totally unrelated incident the government of the United States created Operation Sea Signal to get ready for a huge migration of refugees from Haiti and Cuba. Two years later in 1994 Operation Sea Signal became Joint Task Force 160 which was responsible for taking care of more than 40,000 migrants who would be either sent back to their countries or paroled to the United States. Camp X Ray was the name of the facility at the Naval Station at Guantanamo Bay where this operation was located. In 1996 Operation Sea Signal was over, and our military left Camp X Ray.
In December of 2001 Joint Task Force 160 was re-activated and Camp X Ray became a temporary home for people who were captured and deemed potential terrorists involved in the September 11, 2001, attacks on our soil or suspected al-Qaeda or Taliban operatives with ties to our relatively new war in Afghanistan. If you’re still reading and trying to keep a timeline, the first detainees were sent to Camp X Ray in January, 2002. Surprise! The very next month Joint Task Force 170 was brought into existence as a new intelligence gathering group of our folks to wheedle secret information out of our population of detainees who had been moved from the old Camp X Ray to the new 410-bed Camp Delta in April. By November of 2002, everybody decided it was silly to have two joint task forces when one was enough. So….160 and 170 became Joint Task Force Guantanamo.
Here’s a quarter, call someone who cares, I might say at this point eleven years later. I was fifty-six years old when I first heard of the prison at Guantanamo Bay and like most liberal Americans, I dismissed it at the time as something President Bush and Vice-President Cheney had dreamed up to play a part in the Global War on Terror and I confess I’ve tried not to think about its continued existence or the people who’ve lived there all these years. Snippets of news from Guantanamo nagged at me periodically over the years, but I was forced to give it more thought when presidential candidate Barack Obama campaigned about closing Guantanamo Bay during his 2008 run. Hooray! I thought. At last, I can get this little persistent sense of liberal guilt behind me. President Obama did win that first term and was re-elected in 2012. But today is just past the middle of the year in 2013, and I know that the prison in Guantanamo houses more horrific acts than ever before.
To his credit President Obama has issued executive orders to close our base there. To their shame, the Senate has refused to fund closure. In the 2010 Omnibus Defense bill we have renamed our detainees alien unprivileged enemy belligerents. Wow. Look that up in your Funk & Wagnall. The political football that is Guantanamo has been kicked around our judicial system for years, too, with the most recent ruling coming this week from U. S. District Judge Gladys Kessler who said she didn’t have the jurisdiction to respond to the petition of Syrian detainee Jihad Dhiab to stop his forced feeding at the prison. She tossed it back to President Obama and basically said Shame on all of us if we allow this nightmare to go on.
I remember the movie Iron-Jawed Angels from 2004 about the determined suffragettes in America and England who used hunger strikes to draw attention to their cause. They, too, were force-fed at the hands of guards who had little tolerance for their beliefs. The images were painful to watch on the screen then, as the videos and pictures of the force-feeding at Guantanamo are now. The prison population at Guantanamo is now 166 and more than a hundred are on a hunger strike to protest the length of their imprisonment without trials. Unbelievable as it seems, 86 of our current alien unprivileged enemy belligerents have been approved for release to other countries, but political interests waylay the process.
One of my personal heroes is a fellow Texan Molly Ivins, an author and columnist who died in 2007. She was famous for her essays regarding personal liberty and our values as a nation. She was also famous for her dislike of the Iraq war. In her last column, she had this to say: “We are the people who run this country. We are the deciders. And every single day, every single one of us needs to step outside and take some action to help stop this war. Raise hell.”
Well Molly, this is my own particular hell-raising day. Mr. President, get us out of this sorry mess we call Guantanamo Bay. Senators, act like you got a little bit of sense on this issue and close it down. Supremes, it’s on your watch, too. In the end, it’s not about liberal vs. conservative values – it’s about human dignity, respect for each other and fair treatment.
And Travis Tritt, you can keep your quarter. You’ve found someone who cares.