I recently visited the detention facilities at the U.S. naval base at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, and was dismayed at what I saw. The place was nothing like what I expected, and I was struck by how little we Americans actually know about these facilities and the conduct of our personnel there. With every new interview and every new area walk-through I hoped to find some validation of the certainties I brought with me from the hundreds of articles, documentaries, and speeches presented to the American people by our intellectual superiors.
Instead, my experiences at Guantanamo Bay illustrate the thoroughness of the miseducation of the American people and our willingness to assume the worst about our men and women in uniform. Furthermore, the visit clearly demonstrated that there is a widespread ignorance of the complexity of the situation that we face in the current war against our terrorist enemies. This ignorance results in a focus on superficial issues instead of core questions, and a naive trust in false stories and an astonishing proclivity to be misled.
Our willingness to believe the worst about our servicemen and women is evident in the popular beliefs about Guantanamo Bay, despite the facts. There are quite literally too many examples to choose from to represent the overwhelmingly negative and sensational views on what occurs at the hands of American citizens under direct supervision. Here’s one attempt: “Guantanamo Bay, in addition to Abu Ghraib, is a national disgrace and international embarrassment to us, to our country’s ideals, and a festering threat to our security. It is a legal black hole that dishonors the principles of a great nation.” These inaccurate and deliberately misleading comments made by Senator Pat Leahy (D-VT) illustrate the point nicely. Never mind that the incident at Abu Ghraib was never excused by a single military or civilian leader, and that it stands out as an extreme and isolated example of the unfortunate effects that a few anomalous individuals can produce. Instead, he deliberately links Abu Ghraib with Guantanamo in an effort to demonstrate to his audience that there is a pattern of immoral behavior perpetrated by members of our military.