The Worst GenerationMay 21st, 2009

Democrats in the US Senate have announced that there will be no closure of the extralegal torture center at Guantanamo until the President finds a place to put the inmates. The senators are emphatic that the prisoners are welcome in none of the 50 states represented by their august body.

It’s not that the prisoners are guilty of anything. On the contrary, it is because they are innocent that the government is obliged to release them. The problem is not anything the prisoners did–most were taken by Afghan bounty-hunters on trumped-up evidence–but what we as a nation did to them. A couple of hundred men wandering among us after years of illegal confinement and torture at the hands our government is a situation our leaders would rather not confront. Until we can ship these guys someplace where they won’t be a constant reminder of the moral bankruptcy of Americans, we’ll just have to keep them locked up.

The men themselves–whose stories remain untold by the mass media–were mostly kids when they were captured. For the first several years of the their imprisonment, they had no names at all, and the media and the people were content with that. Eventually, judges forced the government to provide them with lawyers, and it is through their lawyers that a few of us have come to learn that nearly all of them are innocent of wrongdoing. The rest of us still believe they are terrorists, mainly because our media refuse to tell us the truth about them.

Suppressing the truth about them is meant to help us all deny the truth about us. The plight of our captives exposes us as a people without principle, without moral strength, without ethics, without common decency, without a sense of justice, without values. If the fathers of George Bush, Dick Cheney, Doug Feith, Chris Dodd, Nancy Pelosi, Alberto Gonzalez, Bill Clinton and the rest of my age-mates were members of the best generation, we ourselves are part of the worst generation. As the brave men and women who fought and won a world war die off, and as their misbegotten issue squander whatever legacy their elders left behind, the nation descends into a pit of corruption, violence, and poverty. It’s as if we had set about to prove that we deserved 9/11. Now we seem to be headed for much worse, and terrorism is the least of our worries.

The prisoners (”detainees,” as we like to call them in the degraded language we receive from our embedded mass media) are living, walking witnesses to our misconduct. If we could kill them, we would. If we could cut out their tongues and eyes, we’d do that. Our courts say we can’t keep them imprisoned, but a lawless senate disagrees, and so the men continue to rot by the hundreds in darkness and isolation. There is no asylum for them. Years of injustice and brutality have made them men without a country.

If the prisoners are men without a country, we are men without a nation. We, the worst generation, have trashed the last tattered remnants of the republic bequeathed us by the best generation. To distinguish ourselves from the reluctant warriors that spawned and nurtured us, we made war for profit and political advantage, and now we’re reaping a harvest of shame and degradation. The nation turned out not to be a “homeland” but a set of principles and values that we’ve long since abandoned. If we let the victims of our crimes loose among us, their silent rebuke will only augment our shame.