Monday, October 12, 2009 much can you blame them?

The Obama administration would very much like to resettle the Guantanamo detainees their predecessors picked up in error; the innocent people (mostly men) caught in the backwash of the badly misnamed war on terror. In the frantic early days after 9/11, when so many of us thought al Qaeda had the resources to mount a whole campaign of terror against the United States, a terrorist was a terrorist if his uncle, or his tribal leader, or the bounty hunter who showed up with him in Peshawar or Kandahar said so. We all know the result that the Obama Administration wants us to help make up for.

And we ought to. We took part in the war on terror. To the eternal credit of our government and especially of M. Chretian, we wanted to see it waged sensibly, but we had, and have, troops and special forces in Afghanistan and ships in the Indian Ocean. Some of the people taken into custody by our forces almost certainly ended up in Guantanamo or some other, even more secret prisons. We didn't make the mess, but we helped. So why not help do justice now?

Well, for exhibit 'A', meet Janet Napolitano, the secretary of Homeland Security for the United States, who eight years after 9/11 thinks Mohammed Atta and his fellow evildoers entered the United States over the Canadian border, and who has invoked that misconception in defending the expensive and highly disruptive program to require passports from all travelers at the US/Canada border. For exhibit 'B', consider Maher Arar, a Canadian citizen shipped to Syria by the Americans (with the apparent connivance of Canadian officials). The Americans have banned Mr. Arar from their country and their airspace, and still refuse to tell the Canadian government why. If Canadians have a real problem with the persistence of myths in the American public discussion, and if Canadians find the American government less than transparent in the war on terror, we have reason to.

And thanks to another ideology many leading Americans hold dear, the idea of the global economy, any Canadian government that fails of the border file has a lot to lose. We embraced continental economic integration with the Free Trade Agreement, and later extended it with NAFTA. Whether that made sense or not, we now have a fully integrated North American market. Should some American demagogue take advantage of the presence of the remarkably persistent myths of 9/11 hijackers coming from Canada, compounded by any so-called "gitmo terrorists" we accept to severely restrict the border, both countries will get shot in the foot; but the US, a country ten times as big, will take a lot longer to feel the pain.

So much as I like and admire President Obama, and as much as I consider Steven Harper at best a placeholder in the Prime Minister's office, I still have to admit that our government has real reasons not to want to take any Guantanamo detainees.

No comments: