It’s all downhill from here for fans of irony. We’ve already enjoyed the most ironic news story of the year.
“The Obama administration would quickly send home six Algerians held at the military detention center at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, but for one problem: The men don’t want to go,” reported the July 10 edition of The Washington Post. “Given the choice between repatriation and incarceration, the men choose Gitmo, according to their lawyers.”
This is amusing, in part simply because it reminds us that the controversial detention center remains open. After all, in one of his first actions as president Barack Obama had declared it would be closed by January, 2010. Moreover, there’s no sign it will ever close.
But it’s downright hilarious because of the way candidate Obama described the facility when on the stump in 2008. Guantanamo represented a “sad chapter in American history,” he opined. It was “a legal black hole” and “a false choice between fighting terrorism and respecting habeas corpus.”
Obama wasn’t alone. During the Bush years, the words “Guantanamo Bay” were a verbal talisman. They could be deployed at any time to wound a sitting president, and the speaker never had to explain why Gitmo was bad or what he’d do to replace it.
The idea that Guantanamo might be a decent place, that detainees might actually prefer American custody to being repatriated, never seemed to come up. Yet that’s the reality, and the joke’s on the president.
Of course, Gitmo isn’t the only powerful verbal talisman out there. An even mightier word looms large in the debate over financial reform. It’s the word “regulation,” and it’s bandied about as if it contains the answers to all our national problems.
“All these years of deregulation by the Republicans and the absence of regulation as these new financial instruments have grown have allowed them to take a large chunk of the economy hostage,” says House banking committee chair Barney Frank, as quoted in “13 Bankers” by Simon Johnson and James Kwak. The book attempts to explain the 2008 financial meltdown, but ends up being little more than a valentine to the idea that regulation is good.