On the very day President Obama signed an executive order calling for the closure of the Guantanamo Bay detention center within one year, House Minority Leader John Boehner (R-OH) regurgitated one of the GOP's tried and untrue talking points in its defense. Claiming the facility "has more comforts than a lot of Americans get," Boehner is just the latest Republican to present that blight on America's international standing as "Club Gitmo."
At a press conference today, Boehner rejected the notion that Guantanamo had given the United States a black eye. To Boehner, the accommodations at Gitmo are figuratively, if not literally, to die for:
"I don't know that there's a terrorist treated better anywhere in the world than what has happened at Guantanamo. It is - we have spent hundreds of millions of dollars to build a facility that has more comforts than a lot of Americans get."
That sound bite made its first appearance in June 2005 in the wake of revelations regarding the torture of Gitmo prisoner Mohammed al-Qahtani. On June 12, Time published details of an 84-page document spelling out the abuse of Qahtani, treatment including sustained isolation, sleep deprivation, nudity and prolonged exposure to cold, which left him in a "life-threatening condition." The result, as Americans learned last week from military commission chief Susan Crawford, is that Qahtani's case could not be referred for prosecution because, "his treatment met the legal definition of torture."
The abuse of Qahtani, however, did not meet the Republican definition of torture. As John Boehner, Dick Cheney, Duncan Hunter, Mel Martinez and Mike Huckabee alike attest, Gitmo is more country club than detention center.
That jaw-dropping assessment was standard fare from the mouthpieces of the right after the 2005 Qahtani revelations. Vice President Cheney announced, "I think people there are being treated far better than they expected to be treated by any other government on Earth." Just how well was explained by Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA):
"The inmates in Guantanamo have never eaten better, they've never been treated better...the idea that we are somehow torturing people in Guantanamo is absolutely not true, unless you consider eating chicken three days a week is torture."
While Hunter was distributing menus from Guantanamo to reporters as proof, his Florida colleague Mel Martinez worried the U.S. detention facility had "become an icon for bad stories and at some point you wonder the cost-benefit ratio." Still, as Fox News reported:
Martinez has said, however, that prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are treated better there than those in Florida's Orange County jail.
The prison envy American inmates would experience was a point hammered home repeatedly by former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee. During the Republican presidential primaries in which he and Mitt Romney ("My view is we ought to double Guantanamo") battled to heap praise on Guantanamo, Huckabee declared that prisoners in his state wished they had it so good. After announcing in June 2007 that "most of our prisoners would love to be in a facility more like Guantanamo," Huckabee that December fawned over the creature comforts at Gitmo:
"The inmates there were getting a whole lot better treatment than my prisoners in Arkansas. In fact, we left saying, 'I hope our guys don't see this. They'll all want to be transferred to Guanatanmo.' If anything, it's too nice."
That sentiment was perhaps best expressed this summer by Sean Hannity and his guest Kyndra Miller Rotunda. Rotunda, a former Judge Advocate General officer at Guantanamo from August 2002 through March 2003, had argued in her book, "to some extent, yes, it is Club Gitmo." And on June 29, 2008, she told Hannity:
"I know there have been a lot of allegations about Guantanamo Bay, but the truth is it's really more like a Boy Scout camp than it is a prison camp."
Amazingly, she continued, "sure there are plenty of allegations of torture in Guantanamo Bay, the problem is there's just no facts to back it up." That, of course, is completely untrue.
But then again, the truth was never a barrier for John Boehner and his Republican allies.
(This piece is crossposted at Perrspectives.)