A Shakespearean Glance at the People and Issues of the Day.

Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Measure 4 Measure & Gitmo's Guests

Shakespeare addressed the Guantanamo Bay conundrum - what do we do with this special breed of prisoner - in Measure for Measure, his grim meditation on the perils of theocracy that he camouflaged as a comedy. But let's inquire first of our Guests of Gitmo. A recent report has many of them expressing a desire not to be sent home:

"Fearing militants or even their own governments, some prisoners at Guantanamo Bay from China, Saudi Arabia and other nations do not want to go home, according to transcripts of hearings at the U.S. prison in Cuba.

"Uzbekistan, Yemen, Algeria and Syria are also among the countries to which detainees do not want to return. The inmates have told military tribunals that they or their families could be tortured or killed if they are sent back."

One of the things being measured in Measure is a prisoner's neck for the executioner's ax. Like the Gitmo prisoners, the condemned Barnadine's imprisonment has been repeatedly extended because, well, let's let Shakespeare tell it:

Duke: "What is that Barnadine who is to be executed in th' afternoon?"

Provost: "A Bohemian born, but here nursed up and bred, one that is a prisoner nine years old."

Duke: "How came it that the absent Duke had not either delivered him to his liberty or executed him? I have heard it was ever his manner to do so."

Pro: "His friends still wrought reprieves for him; and indeed his fact, till now in the government of Lord Angelo, came not to an undoubtful proof."

Barnadine gives us more Gitmo parallels than Bardseye knows what to do with. Being born in Bohemia – the old term for today's Czech Republic – but "here nursed and bred" raises citizenship issues that would be a dream come true for any ACLU attorney who might volunteer Barnadine's defense. And indeed Barnadine's nine-year imprisonment has resulted from his legally-minded friends who "wrought reprieves for him." Of course, Barnadine wasn't part of an active, mass-murdering, worldwide terrorist movement into whose hating arms he could return upon release.

By the way, that "fact (crime) …came not to an undoubtful proof" business means that until Lord Angelo took over the government, Barnadine's crime had not been proven beyond doubt. Angelo is a priest whom the Duke has temporarily entrusted with the government of Vienna, while the Duke himself, incognito, checks on his citizens, and on Angelo's theocratic administration of justice.

Shakespeare is not as weepy as the ACLU defense lawyers, settling the issue of Barnadine's guilt as quickly as he raises it. The Duke asks the Provost whether Barnadine committed the murder he is charged with:

Duke: "Is it now apparent?"

Pro: "Most manifest, and not denied by himself."

Cut to the tape of 911 call made by the Iranian-American NC State University graduate just moments after he plowed an SUV, rented for the purpose, into a flock of students, as his calm unaccented voice acknowledges to the operator with unmistakable pride that the has just done what he has done, and he asks to be arrested. Mohammud Taheri-Azar's act was on American soil, so he won't be sent to Gitmo. But was the mayhem he committed a crime or an act of war?

Duke: "Hath he borne himself penitently in prison? How seems he to be touched?"

Pro: "A man that apprehends death no more dreadfully but as a drunken sleep – careless, reckless, and fearless of what's past, present or to come; insensible of mortality, and desperately mortal."

Duke: "He wants advice."

That last comment means that he needs spiritual counseling. Well, at this point, we all do. Here's where we get to the part where Barnadine, our Shakespearean Gitmo surrogate, expresses a surprising affinity for his prison:

Pro: "He hath evermore had the liberty of the prison. Give him leave to escape hence, he would not."

Bardseye returns to the news item that began tonight's excursion:

"Inmates have told military tribunals they worry about reprisals from militants who will suspect them of cooperating with U.S. authorities in its war on terror. Others say their own governments may target them for reasons that have nothing to do with why they were taken to Guantanamo Bay in the first place.

"A Uighur told a military tribunal that he feared going back to China so much, he considered trying to convince the panel that he was guilty, according to a hearing transcript.

"'If I am sent back to China, they will torture me really bad,' said the man, whose name did not appear in the transcript. 'They will use dogs. They will pull out my nails.'

"Two of the Uighurs are appealing a federal judge’s rejection of their request to be released in the United States, where a family in the Washington suburbs has offered to take them in."

That's a hospitable family. Any other takers?

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