Daesh-allied militants attacked a European city this week, setting off three bombs in Brussels that killed 31 and injured 260. In the United States, the response was immediate, first with the outpouring of support from the public, then, unsurprisingly, with a flurry of bellicose pronouncements from most of the remaining major-party presidential candidates.
The violence overshadowed what might well be one of the most enduring and significant accomplishments of the Obama presidency: the reopening of relations with Cuba, cemented when he became the first president in 88 years to visit the island nation.
"The horror in Brussels is unforgivable. Few can deny, though, that some of the worst policies of the U.S. and its allies serve as recruitment tools for [Islamic State] and other groups."
After the bombings in Brussels, Republican candidate Ted Cruz said, “We need to empower law enforcement to patrol and secure Muslim neighborhoods before they become radicalized.” Donald Trump told NBC regarding Salah Abdeslam, the suspect in the November Paris massacre who was captured in Brussels last Friday, “If they could expand the laws, I would do a lot more than waterboarding.” On CNN, Trump said, “He may be talking, but he’ll talk faster with the torture.” Give Trump credit for calling it what it is, torture. But actually advocating for torture?
Speaking from Brussels, writer Frank Barat, president of the Palestine Legal Action Network, told us on the “Democracy Now!” news hour, “We either continue the eye-for-an-eye, tooth-for-a-tooth war and more revenge-type of things that have led to nothing but more terrorism on the ground ... or we decide to stop and start to ask the tough questions that need to be answered.” Barat continued: “It came out of radicalization through what’s happening in Syria, which is actually key to understand the creation of [Islamic State]. What’s happened in Syria in the last few years is a total betrayal, on the part of the Western world. People rising to fight its oppressor and the West sort of turning its back on them, allowing slaughter, this created so much anger, so much rancor.”
Barat went on, “When you put this on top of the failure of U.S. foreign policy and U.S. imperialism, when you put this on top of the sort of ambitions of the West in terms of oil, in terms of trade routes and in terms of supporting dictators and Israel, it creates a powerful and very dangerous mixture that then manifests in the form of [Islamic State] or al-Qaida or any other terrorist organizations.”
He suggested an alternate response: “In Norway, after the attacks of Anders Breivik in 2011, which killed more than 70 people, the prime minister of Norway said that Norway’s response to terror would be more openness, greater political participation and more democracy. It’s words we don’t hear nowadays.”
Across the Atlantic, President Barack Obama was making history with his state visit to Cuba. In a public address, he said, “I have come here to bury the last remnant of the Cold War in the Americas.” Yet the official embargo against Cuba remains in place until the intransigent U.S. Congress votes to end it.
President Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro held a joint news conference on Monday. “We continue, as President Castro indicated, to have some very serious differences, including on democracy and human rights,” Obama said.
What kind of alternative does the United States show Cubans on that corner of their island, Guantanamo Bay, that the U.S. controls? There, the U.S government maintains its hellish military prison beyond the reach of U.S. laws, where hundreds of men have been held, most without charge, and many beaten and tortured. Ninety-one remain there. Thirty-six have long been cleared for release.
On Wednesday, the House Armed Services Committee held a hearing on the closure of the prison at Guantanamo Bay. Maj. Gen. Michael R. Lehnert, USMC (Ret.), submitted a statement. He was the officer tasked with building the current prison. He ran it for its first 100 days, and received its first prisoners. “Guantanamo was a mistake,” Lehnert wrote. “History will reflect that. It was created in the early days as a consequence of fear, anger and political expediency. It ignored centuries of rule of law and international agreements. It does not make us safer, and it sullies who we are as a nation. That in over a decade we have failed to acknowledge the mistake and change course is unforgivable and ignorant.”
The horror in Brussels is unforgivable. Few can deny, though, that some of the worst policies of the U.S. and its allies serve as recruitment tools for [Islamic State] and other groups. We need a uniform standard of justice. We can start by closing Guantanamo, and ensuring that torture is permanently purged from the policy prescriptions of those who would be president.