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Forgive me, please, for being frivolous. I am acutely aware that the situation calls for sobriety. It may be tantamount to laughter at a funeral, but it's laughter all the same. It is neither Cuba nor America, though it is definitely both. Life's irenic rhythms are apparently not threatened by the men imprisoned at the detention camp just over the hill from the W. Sampson Elementary School, a few of whom stand legitimately accused of trying to kill Americans through various acts of terror.
So, yes, a little dark laughter is in order. Gitmo is supposedly "the Pearl of the Antilles," a nickname for this remote tip of Cuba, where dry scrubland tumbles toward the sea and lazy iguanas bake in the noonday heat. Havana, miles away, is a distant dream. Much closer is the impoverished nation of Haiti. It, too, is called "the Pearl of the Antilles. The beaches are best at sunset, when the coral rocks are aflame with an auburn glow.
As waves slap against the shore, you can forget about Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, who allegedly helped perpetrate the bombing of the USS Cole in , which killed 17 American sailors. He now waits for trial at Camp 7, a secretive prison for about a dozen of Gitmo's supposed worst. Nor do you have to think about, unless you truly want to, Hamdan v.
Rumsfeld, the status of supposedly stateless "enemy combatants," the Geneva Conventions or habeas corpus. Nor about the thousands of Haitian refugees who came here in the s in a fruitless search for asylum, nor about how Fidel Castro called the naval base here "a dagger plunged into the heart of Cuban soil," nor about how American forces established a foothold here in , defeating Spain and helping Cuba achieve independence, for which favor the United States was given "complete jurisdiction and control" over this crescent of land in But as the climbing sun blanches the petrified coral cliffs, you just might be reminded of the white promontories of Dover, England, the ones where the poet Matthew Arnold famously saw "ignorant armies clash by night.
The philosopher Thomas Paine noted in The Age of Reason that the "sublime and the ridiculous are often so nearly related that it is difficult to class them separately. The justifications used to detain most of the suspected terrorists in camps that stand at the edges of those cliffs are, as nearly everyone with any knowledge of constitutional law agrees, ridiculous. The underwater vistas are sublime in their clarity. The ones aboveground are ridiculously plain, dry hills punctuated by low buildings of mustard and maroon, constructed with such obvious haste and lack of imagination that they make your average suburban strip mall look like the Taj Mahal.