Today, reading about the latest on Gitmo and torture and prosecutions and so forth, I reached my saturation point on the word “detainees.”
Personally, I’m not too squeamish to go ahead and call them “prisoners.” Why don’t we just go ahead and do that? We’ve been holding some of these people since 2001, and many of them we don’t ever intend to let go (and if we do, we’re crazy). So why not “prisoners?”
Yes, I get it that their legal status is unsettled, and in U.S. crime-and-punishment parlance we generally save “prisoner” for someone duly convicted to spend time in a “prison,” which is an institution we distinguish from jails where people await trial or holding cells where they await bail or whatever.
But if we can’t be honest enough to say that Gitmo is a prison and they are prisoners, whatever the technicalities, could we please come up with something that sounds a little less prissy, somewhat less a-tiptoe, than “detainees?”
Whenever I hear the term, I picture a Victorian gentleman saying “Pardon me, sir, but I must detain you for a moment…”
Whose sensibilities are we overprotecting by the use of this word? Those who feel like the “detainees'” “rights” are being trampled? Those like me who are glad we have a secure place to put some of these people? (Hey, go ahead and close Gitmo if you’d like. That’s what Obama says he’ll do and it’s what McCain would have done, too. Fine. But find someplace just as secure to put the ones we need to hang onto.)
Maybe we could sort out all the rest of the mess — the legal status, the security issues, who should interrogate and how, whom to keep and whom to send home and whom to send to a third location, whether any of our own should be prosecuted, etc. — if we started by coming up with something less mealy-mouthed to call these people.