Roger L. Simon

Of Martha Stewart and Gitmo

Forget Dick “What Me Gulag?” Durbin or Karl “The Enforcer” Rove; the most revealing political statement made recently was by the rather more obscure Rep. Ellen Tauscher, D-Calif, who just told the Associated Press about her Congressional visit to Gitmo this weekend: “The Guantanamo we saw today is not the Guantanamo we heard about a few years ago.” (Apparently, Gitmo didn’t turn out to be that dastardly off-shoot of the Spanish Inquisition after all. No torture chambers. No Torquemada. Not even one wet Koran.)

But the amazing thing in Ms. Tauscher’s statement is that she admitted she had only “heard” about the problems in Guantanamo. The use of that word would just be another of the many embarrassing howlers of our time if it weren’t so tragic in all it implies about the reactionary behavior of our supposedly “liberal” mainstream media and our supposedly “liberal” Democratic Party over those same last “few years.” Their unrelenting criticisms were all (or mostly) based on hearsay.

Yes, yes, I know – all those horrors in Abu Ghraib… that dopey young lady playing S&M horsey games out of every other manga comic book in Shinjuku that sooooo offended some people. (I bet!) Meanwhile, in the real world, we all know the obvious truth about prison in every country – it stinks! Jail is lousy for everyone from Tashkent to Talahassee – even Martha Stewart. And I’d take my chances in a US Military prison over virtually all of them and so would (I’d bet again – in this case my house) almost all their critics, from the editors of the New York Times to the head honchos of Amnesty International. (How do those hypocritical buzzards feel about this new Congressional report, I wonder?)

Which reminds me of a Hollywood story of my own from fifteen or so years ago. I got in my mind to write one of those switcheroo screenplays for Eddie Murphy in which Eddie would play a real down-and-out street criminal (you know, skanky car thief but loveable, something like that) who ends up, by a clerical error, in one of those so-called Country Club Prisons filled with upscale corporate criminals (male Martha Stewart types). And then, as they say, “the fun begins.”

Well, the studio liked my pitch and I was ready to rock and roll when I thought – time to do a little research. The truth is always more interesting than what we can make up, right? So I made some phone calls and arranged for a visit to what was then California’s best known Country Club Prison out in the desert in Boron. But when I got there, I discovered something strange – no golf course, no tennis court, no swimming pool… just what looked like a particularly rundown military base in the middle of nowhere with a small outdoor weight room and some grim barracks. The inmates themselves didn’t look much like Ivan Boesky or Michael Milken either, at least not Boesky or Milken the way we might remember them in their five thousand dollars suits. They were just a bunch of very depressed looking guys in prison garb doing manual labor in the one hundred degree Mojave sun. No fun at all and no movie for Roger, once I got the picture that my premise was just a big lie. Country Club Prison was no country club. But then… I guess some people think Guantanamo should be.

(AP article via Power Line)

UPDATE: An interesting survey of world prisons here. (Hint: if you have a choice, stay out of the French ones.)

(hat tip: Bruce Webster)

MORE: Apropos the superb lyrics in the comments, I commend to you another Guantanamera, the last film (1995) of the late great Cuban filmmaker Tomas Gutierrez Alea. I have seen quite a few of his films, the most memorable being Memorias del subdesarrollo (1968). But Guantanamera, which uses the title song both ironically and evocatively, made me cry for the director who spent his life trying to live and work under a system he knew was destroying his country. Gutierrez Alea was also gay – double-trouble under Castro, the vicious homophobe.

AND ONE MORE THING: From the ever-helpful RogerLSimon correspondent on the Senate floor… a PDF file of the Guantanamo inmates menu. [Better than my high school.-ed. No kidding.]