Do You Remember Bobby Sands? [Catholics Blogging to Close Gitmo]

Susan Windley-Daoust (The Ironic Catholic) and Sherry Antonetti (Chocolate for Your Brain!) are launching one of those perennial Doomed Quixotic Efforts that makes Catholicism the Greatest Thing in the World.

See, we’re a little weird, and America has always rightly understood this and been suspicious of us. Our beliefs cut right across party lines. We value truth over the pretty lie, beauty over efficiency, sacrifice over selfishness, God over mammon.

Even when confronted with grave evil, we know that we must not sink into evil ourselves. We may not be able to save the world or even another life, but we know we must–must–save our own souls, and try to save as many other souls as we can in the process.

This is what causes us to break our lives in service to something higher. It’s what led the martyrs to sing on their way to death. It’s what led St. Maximilian to step out of line at Auschwitz and say, “Take me.”

See, there is something worse than misery, loss, and even death. There is damnation. And it is real. And the pit is always looking to swallow us up.

And so we must be better than the world.

That is why we don’t torture, even when the bomb is ticking. And that is why we don’t hold people in prisons conveniently located beyond the jurisdiction of our laws.

It’s why we have to, once and for all, close this chapter in our history and shut down Gitmo.

Susan and Sherry were prompted to start this blog-around by the news that many–if not most–of the 166 prisoners at Gitmo are on a hunger strike to protest their detention

The first name that came to mind when I read the story was, “Bobby Sands.”

Being an American of Irish descent, I was marinated in love for the old sod and hatred of English oppressors who divided the land and kept my brothers in chains. Active support–or at least tacit approval or excuse-making–for the IRA was rampant in the Irish-American community in the 1970s and 1980s. We might have shaken our head at a bombing and said it was wrong, but we still made excuses for it.

I was quite enamored of the IRA, the way dumb, thoughtless kids often are for grand and violent gestures aimed at injustice and tyranny. As time went on and the violence died down, I thought about it less, but it wasn’t until 9/11 that I really grasped full horror of what I supported.

It’s to my great and lasting shame that it took that long.

When I read about prisoners going on a hunger strike, I went back in my mind to 1981 and the ten men at Maze prison who starved themselves to death to demand political prisoner status. Led by Bobby Sands, the men wasted away and died, causing humiliation for the British government and a huge boon for the IRA and other anti-colonial factions in Northern Ireland.

The men became martyrs and heroes. I remember seeing their faces on posters and t-shirts. People wrote books and songs. The Provos and their US apologists used the incident to milk money from dumb Americans for years.

In the process, many lost sight of a simple fact: these men were terrorists. Sands was implicated in a bombing and involved in a gun battle with the police. He was finally imprisoned on a weapons charge. He was a violent man.

The IRA in the 1970s and 1980s were not a revolutionary force anymore. They were just thugs and murderers: people who would blow up musicians and murder a war hero and his teenage grandson, and claim it as some kind of brave political statement rather than a raw act of cowardice. They were scum.

Yet the English treated them better than anyone brought to Gitmo. Bobby Sands was indeed in prison, where he died trying to make a foolish point.

But he was only imprisoned after a trial. He wasn’t disappeared into the shadows of an unaccountable complex located on a spit of land in a foreign, hostile nation. He was kept in a prison 9 miles south of Belfast. Somehow, the Empire did not crumble because of this.

I have little doubt that the majority of people in Gitmo are violent men. If released, they would probably take up arms and plot against us.

But here’s the thing: like most actual conservatives, I don’t trust the government. I certainly don’t trust any system that claims the right to hold people indefinitely without trial, even if those people are my enemy. Especially if those people are my enemy. The law must be just, even when the person is not. Justice does not serve the criminal: it serves society.

Margaret Thatcher let the Maze hunger strikers die rather than concede their point and treat them as something more than just garden-variety gangsters. We’ve done the opposite. We’ve made ignorant fanatics into political prisoners.

Closing Gitmo will not be easy. Figuring out what to do with these men, how to try them, and where to put them will be a challenge. It will not be convenient. Some of the men may well be completely innocent. We will look bad. The terrorists will get a propaganda victory. The spectacle of a terrorist standing up in open court to proclaim his jihad will be simple nauseating.

Tough. We need to do it anyway.

We do it because if we are not better than the monsters we fight, we deserve to lose. America doesn’t stand for power or victory or prosperity. It stands for freedom and justice. We’ve lost sight of that. Our freedoms are eroded, and our justice is sold to the highest bidder. Perhaps we need to reset our course. Perhaps we need to put the last 11 years behind us, and prove to the world that the greatest nation on earth no longer fears 166 bearded fanatics. Most of all, we need to get right with God, who does not smile on the unjust man.

However we do it, and however hard it will be, the time has come. We must close Gitmo.


Frank Weathers:  Message From the Front Lines of “Operation Enduring Travesty”

Mark Shea: Close Gitmo

Erin Manning: Monstrous inhumanity at Gitmo

About Thomas L. McDonald

Thomas L. McDonald writes about technology, theology, history, games, and shiny things. Details of his rather uneventful life as a professional writer and magazine editor can be found in the About tab.

  • victor

    At any rate, the average Gitmo prisoner is still treated better than any given German POW was under Eisenhower at the end of that war.

  • Ironic Catholic

    Hey, being Catholic means being quixotic, at least sometimes, and this is brilliantly stated. Thanks so much for writing this.

  • Sherry

    Well said, thanks for joining our quixotic attempt to remind everyone that while we may not be able to stop injustice, we better darn well not pretend it isn’t happening.

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  • Theodore Seeber

    We need to make an experiment out of them- and an example.

    We need to create a prison with no doors, only walls. Monitored internet access can serve as communications, food holes and toilets for input and output. It should be in America, it should be monitored 24×7. And it should be completely without the possibility or hope of escape.

    Trials should be necessary to move men from Gitmo to there- but the trials should begin immediately. All who committed a violent act, go there. All who didn’t, all who are only convicted of “plotting” can go elsewhere.

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  • victor

    We could re-purpose either New York or Los Angeles for this purpose. And if we ever DID need to go in and extract say, the President, I know the man to call: Snake Plissken.

  • MaryMargaret

    Sorry, I think Bobby Sands et al were freedom fighters. If the US had the right to overthrow English tyranny, then so did the Irish, including the Irish in the north. Now, the IRA definitely had criminal elements, and I believe that many of the bombings were criminal acts. But, Margaret Thatcher not only refused to grant the Provos political prisoner status, she also did nothing nothing to save their lives. At least Bobby Sands et al gave their lives for what they believed in..Maggie just didn’t give a damn for the Irish or Ireland. Guildford four, anyone?

  • Timothy (TRiG)

    The IRA (what’s left of it) and its many splinter groups are gangs of armed thugs, more interested in their criminal activities than any real political point, “freedom fighters” or otherwise. It wasn’t always so, but it is now.


  • Matthew

    I’m genuinely angry at this article. To call Bobby Sands a simple criminal is over simplistic and extremely offensive. Irish Catholics in the North of Ireland were treated like second class citizens. We couldn’t get jobs or housing nor did we have an equal vote or any political power. The people tried peacefully protesting but were shot off the street (Bloody Sunday) so people like Sands took up an armed struggle, whether you agree with it or not you at least have to understand this decision.
    Even many Unionist politicians today would hesitate using the kind of language you have in regards to paramilitaries. I wonder if you consider the British soldiers to be criminals? Or indeed the US soldiers who flattened Bagdad post 9/11 (since you brought it up). As the saying goes one mans terrorist is another mans freedom fighter and I believe it was hugely disrespectful of you to talk in such terms of a man considered a hero across the catholic population of the north of Ireland

  • Clare Krishan

    Thx for the honesty, appreciate it – growing up a Catholic in Great Britain, the IRA gave such cause for scandal it dismantled any sympathies Catholics in Ulster were due. They were never freedom fighters. Aggrieved malcontents like most us who lose our state of grace out of pride — I count myself in that number — rising from a certain spirit of non serviam when faced with a cross to carry. All is gift, its our appreciation in being willing to unwrap it that counts. Is that not Our Lady’s admonition at Fatima? “More souls go to hell for sins of the flesh than for any other reason.” O my Jesus save us from the fires of Hell… (Hell being that poverty of spirit, that false fervor of the flesh that would have us do evil that good may come of it, a rhetorical non-starter in the new evangelization of the logic of love, presumptuous to boot, no? The grammar of love is always in the present tense, the future is a mystery in God’s tender care not ours to dispose of)

  • Thomas L. McDonald

    Good. If you still think these bastards are heroes, you deserve to be offended.

    Now go ahead and finish this sentence: The acts of Osama bin Laden and the Provos are different because ______.

    I just love to hear my fellow micks twist themselves around that question in the wake of 9/11. “Freedom fighters” my ass. They stopped being freedom fighters around the time they killed Michael Collins.

  • Jasper

    “Perhaps we need to put the last 11 years behind us, and prove to the world that the greatest nation on earth no longer fears 166 bearded fanatics. ”

    you don’t fear them, thats great, have them move in your back yard.

  • The Epic95

    well said.

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