Thursday, March 07, 2002

Generation X Men

There seems to be no end to the controversy found in the way the military is handling their Taliban and Al Qaeda charges in Guantanamo Bay. On the one hand, it would seem that they are being treated eminently fairly, especially considering the conditions in which they're used to existing. They have shelter, medical care, sanitary facilities, religious services and snappy orange jumpsuits that you're sure to see on the runways come fall. But their handling is also generating heat from rights organizations, European governments and Arabic nations for everything from accommodations to methods of restraint to interrogation procedures.

Interestingly enough, there has been no quarrel found with their mess service. While maybe not room service at the Waldorf Astoria, they are none-the-less getting a nutritionally balanced, religiously correct meal, filled with selections such as pita bread, fruit and Asian spices. And in an inadvertent attempt to bend them to the ways of democracy and all it can produce... inadvertent, or else the CIA Psych Ops guys are far more clever than we all give them credit for... they also get breakfast packs of that bounty of capitalism, Froot Loops. If it all works out, before long they'll give up their chanting of "Death to America!" and replace it with "Coo coo for Cocoa Puffs!"

But it seems as though the biggest controversy of all revolves around the most intangible of things. With all that's going on, with the active ferreting out of Osama and Omar, with the goal of identifying fellow travelers in other countries, with the task of labeling which countries actually constitute the next targets, no one can quite agree on what to call the captured fighters that they dug out of the caves and flew halfway around the world to Camp X-Ray.

Besides the obvious ethnic slurs, it turns out the... well... let's refer to them as detainees for the moment... actually fall into different groups. There are the Taliban soldiers, who were serving as fighters for and at the direction of the political leadership which effectively ruled the country. By most traditional standards, these unfortunates would have to be considered soldiers, even if they don't wear spiffy uniforms. Then you have those more directly associated with Al Qaeda, a renegade terrorist organization with a distributed cell structure. And then there are the mercenaries from a handful of Muslim countries, who signed on to battle the Great Satan if for no other reason than it was better than sitting home counting goats.

With the whole world watching, it's most likely that the all will be treated in accordance with the 1949 Geneva Convention. That high-minded declaration set the rules on how captured forces should be handled, addressing such issues as interrogation and communication with outside monitoring agencies. But while the government has no problem with adhering to those rules from a humanitarian standpoint, it wants to avoid formerly labeling all as "Prisoners of War." That's because that would mean that they would have to be content with "name, rank and serial number" kind of answers, something the CIA wants to avoid.

So the question remains: what do you call a group of people you dislike, have information you think might be helpful and who circumstance has thrown together, assuming that the terms "in-laws," "employees" and "neighbors" are not appropriate. Well, a glance through the thesaurus offers a couple of possibilities.

The most obvious is "guests." After all, they're being treated to government hospitality, with room and board far above what they're probably used to at home. But since the lodging is somewhat coerced, that might be an overstatement. After all, "guests" can come and go as they please, and the barbed- wire, handcuffs and armed guards would seem to negate that.

Some might want to refer to them as "hostages." True, they are being held in exchange for something more valuable, in this case information about either their bosses or their plans. However, "hostages" suggests that they were innocents who were seized as part of a criminal act... a situation diametrically opposed from what landed them there in the first place.

Seeing as how the army has decided to designate the detention center as "Camp X Ray," the term "campers" comes to mind. Certainly there are organized activities, assigned bunks, regimentation and a great many rules to be followed. And I'm sure that some of the guards have acquired nicknames based on how easy or strict they are with their charges. But "campers" also implies a happy go lucky kind of attitude... and that's probably not exactly the case.

Or, again playing to the name of their hotel, "Generation X" might work. In many respects it fits: people who seem lost, who took up a cause because they lacked a more productive direction. But to use it would fight against a stereotype that the name connotes... and odds are there isn't a skateboarder among them, nor any known as "Dude Mummar."

Finally, since they're all men and they are at Camp X-Ray, maybe "X-Men" would suffice. After all, they are a band of misfits who feel oppressed and banded together to fight a common enemy. No, they don't have sleek spandex suits nor super powers, but until the camp barber got a hold of them, most looked like Hugh Jackman as Wolverine on a bad day.

There are lots of others to choose from. Depending on your political leanings, you might favor terrorists, victims, defendants, freedom fighters, or scum. But on so many levels, the simplest appellation is probably best: losers.


Marc Wollin of Bedford would like to call the wind Mariah, but it's been done. His column appears regularly in The Record Review and The Scarsdale Inquirer.