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The World at Large: Nothing ever happens.

So they found al-Zarqawi and dispatched him (along with a few others for good measure) to that spiritual realm where he hopes to meet his allotted 72 virgins (or grapes, depending on how you choose to interpret that particular passage). Meanwhile, three Guantanamo inmates dispatch themselves in what is either dispair or an act of war, depending on whether you prefer to listen to their lawyers or their captors.

How to walk to Australia

Following al-Zarqawi’s death, the obvious question is: What now? It may well be that this brings us closer to peace in the Middle East, but only in the same sense that walking from Buckingham Palace to Big Ben brings you closer to Australia. At least this time the Americans are not talking about “Mission Accomplished”, and have enough sense to tell people that this isn’t the solution to all our problems. Al-Zarqawi was a nasty piece of work by all accounts, but he wasn’t the only one and in the short term, his followers are more likely to step up their campaign.

I have to say that I am one of those people who just wishes we could all just get along and stop this stupid fighting business, but unfortunately I’m too cynical to believe that that could ever happen. What a happier — and infinitely more entertaining — world this would be if we could just get all the despotic leaders of the world together in a field and get them to tickle each other with feather dusters or hit each other on the head with vast inflatable mallets. We could award points for style and give the winner a barrel of crude oil.

Instead, we have the unseemly spectacle of terrorists using exploding utility belts pitting their wits against idealistic young men fantasising about Rambo, each group pointing their fingers at the other and screaming, “They started it!” Personally, I don’t care who started it, I just want it to stop.

But it won’t, because people are people and the issues are far too complicated to be sorted by a polite but frank chat in front of the fireplace.

Singing along as before

So, what now? Well, doubtless someone else will emerge as the new bogeyman and we’ll be back to where we were before. The controversy will continue, and so will the killings of both the innocent and the guilty. Eventually things may calm down and the Middle East will once more be reasonably peaceful, but I’m not holding out hope of that happening in my lifetime. To quote the band Del Amitri:

Nothing ever happens, nothing happens at all.
The needle returns to the start of the song
And we’ll all sing along like before.

An act of war

And what about the suicides at Guantanamo? I suppose it is a coincidence that this happened at about the same time (although you never know), but what about the claim that this was an act of war? According to the American authorities, there’s no other explanation. They have food and water, they are allowed to contact family, they have access to lawyers, so it can’t be despair. Therefore, it is an act of war. If they felt they were being badly treated, they would have said something.

Well, of course they have no cause to complain. That’s why they’re being held in top secret away from the jurisdiction of American law. That’s why they didn’t classify them as prisoners of war — after all, since they’re being so well treated, they don’t need either the Geneva Convention or the Bill of Rights.

It’s a sign, I think, of the desparation on the part of the US authorities that they would even think that such a transparently ridiculous line of argument could ever be made to sound convincing. Just think about it for a moment: these people are being kept out of reach of national or international law, have spent years in conditions we have only managed to glimpse without trial or even the prospect of one, allegations of mental torture have circulated for most of that time, contact with other people must be heavily censored (it’d be stupid not to censor it), yet the fact that some of them succeeded in committing suicide is proof positive that at least these three were guilty as hell. The way the news came out, it almost looks as if it took the Americans several hours to come up with a reasonable suggestion as to how this could possibly be an “act of war”: it was apparently a clever PR exercise.

If these people truly had nothing to complain about, perhaps the prison warders would like to spend four years in a rabbit hutch and try not to get suicidal. I’d be interested to see how well they manage.

Trial by death

Perhaps this is how Guantanamo Bay is supposed to work. Those who commit suicide are guilty, those who die of old age are innocent. All we have to do is to wait and see how they die, then we can issue posthumous pardons to the innocent and justice will have been done. The scary thing about that thought is that it’s almost plausible. It’s also very, very stupid because it hands the terrorists a very big PR victory on a plate.

This is all very depressing, but a small ray of hope comes, improbably, from President Bush. At least he’s made the right noises, saying that he would like to see the inmates tried on American soil and for Guantanamo to close down. We can only hope that that will happen soon.

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