I hate that feeling---when you think of just the right thing to say five minutes after a conversation ends and you relive it over and over and over.
My most irksome what-should-have-been moment in recent years took place during the Halifax protest for the visit of George W. Bush in December 2004. A reporter asked me why I was there. I recounted the many crimes of the Bush administration. But I wish I said this: “Two words. Guantanamo Bay.”
Guantanamo Bay---and the American-run detention camp there where some so-called prisoners of war have been held without charge for nigh-on five years---is one of the gravest ills of the Bush administration. And it epitomizes for me, the treacherously flippant view of the American government to the basic rights of humans.
I can scarcely believe this place churns on. Twenty-three prisoners have attempted suicide there; some more than once. Three succeeded June 10. And now the insults pile as journalists are being asked to leave. US secretary of defense Donald Rumsfeld ordered all media off the island last week. Temporarily. Maybe.
This is a terror. America already ranks a dismal 44th out of 167 nations in Reporters Without Borders’s 2005 Worldwide Press Freedom Index. Rumsfeld’s stunt won’t help that rank.
Speaking of freedom of the press, with the reelection (if only just) of Rodney MacDonald, Nova Scotians can expect more of the same in terms of their access to government information, er, sorry, make that a *lack* of access to information. Our Tory overlords have---despite the two-year-old recommendations of a freedom of information review committee---declined to change the province’s abysmal information release regulations. Nova Scotia, which boasts Canada’s highest fees for access to information requests has been called the most secretive government in Canada by the Canadian Association of Journalists.
For their part, MacDonald’s federal counterparts have cultivated their own brand of duct-taping the mouths of journalists on Parliament Hill. Stephen Harper used in April the decision to stop half-masting Parliament's Centre Block flag for killed-in-service military personnel (a policy which was quietly formalized May 31) to hide a far more serious obstruction of information---refusing journalists access to the repatriation of military bodies.
This is tried and true US policy, straight from the Bush administration playbook. Canada parallels the US’s Guantanamo tack, too, in detaining foreign nationals, without charge, on security certificates. Five men are being held in Canada now on these documents. One man, Mohammad Mahjoub, has been in custody for six years. Members of the Supreme Court of Canada last week expressed decided concern over the bee’s swarm of secrecy that clouds the execution of security certificates. Minister of Public Safety Stockwell Day, meanwhile, says if these detainees want out, they should go home. For some, that would mean certain torture.
But, heck, we’d never know. There’d be practically no one to report it, wherever they go. And there’s going to be no one to report random indignities, episodes of torture or future suicides at the US detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, either, with journalists on their way out. George W. Bush announced last week he wanted to close the camp. That’s good. It’s also another possible justification for making the temporary media ban permanent.
Reporters aren’t tops, I sense, in garnering public respect. But reporters are the eyes of the world. And with its lip service to the importance of freedom of the press, the US should remember: it’s hard to look yourself in the mirror when you’re blind. I wish I had thought to say that at the Bush protest too. a
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