Guantanamo, we have a problem.
Your reputation stinks and you are causing divisiveness in Washington.
President Bush said his administration would consider closing the prison at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, only to have his vice president, Dick Cheney, say no, the administration would not.
Donald Rumsfeld weighed in, saying there’s no alternative to a prison at Guantanamo, not exactly the can-do spirit you want in a defense secretary. And congressional Republicans have found the prison yet another issue to divide them.
It’s time to bring some creative thinking to bear on the public-relations problem posed by Guantanamo Bay, the lockup for 540 assorted prisoners we scooped up in Afghanistan and Pakistan and now have no idea what to do with.
CELEBRITY PRISONERS: Look what Martha Stewart did for the reputation of the federal women’s lockup in Alderson, W.Va., a remote hamlet that actually became a tourist destination while the domestic diva was in residence.
People tend to like celebrities and, by extension, the places they reside, even if involuntarily.
It’s too bad in a way that Michael Jackson got acquitted, because his presence in Guantanamo would have made it a place of international pilgrimage. In all the excitement, celebrity-struck human-rights activists would first ignore the Taliban prisoners and then forget about them: “You don’t understand, Khalid. It’s MICHAEL JACKSON!”
We may shortly have a flock of ex-CEOs and corporate titans headed off to prison, and putting them in Guantanamo Bay might ensure some favorable coverage in The Wall Street Journal, BusinessWeek and Forbes. It’s worth a try. To paraphrase Secretary Rumsfeld, we have to put them somewhere.
TOURISM: If Ukrainians can make Chernobyl – with its melted-down nuclear reactor and lethal radioactive exclusion zone – into a tourist destination, Guantanamo Bay should be an easy sell. Alcatraz in San Francisco Bay is a huge attraction; it would be like that, only with the prisoners still present. Think POW theme park.
The idea is to make it look like the prisoners are staying at a resort – the Cuban Riviera, if you will. This is the Caribbean, after all.
Let in the cruise ships, build a couple of casinos and bring on the European tourists. Let the backpackers stay in empty cells, kind of a youth-hostel experience. Offer a full line of merchandise – orange coveralls, hoods, hats, T-shirts. It’s hard to criticize the United States when you’re wearing a shirt that says, “Somebody in Guantanamo Bay Loves Me.”
TV SERIES: Guantanamo Bay has everything. Americans like prison melodramas – “Oz,” for example; stalag comedies – “Hogan’s Heroes”; Islamic terrorism action shows – “24”; and shows – CBS’ “JAG” – about military lawyers. It’s all right there.
A reality-TV series might put the contestants through actual grillings by U.S. interrogators using authentic techniques. If a ditzy blonde on leave from the nail salon can make it, how tough can it be for a hardened al Qaeda operative? I think you’ll see world opinion starting to come around.
Admit it. You’d watch “Law & Order: Special Terrorists Unit.” As a reward for good behavior, the prisoners could act in it. When a prisoner does finally get home to Kandahar, he’ll be able to answer his friends’ most pressing question: “What is Sam Waterston really like?”
And we’ll know our PR offensive has been rewarded when an inmate writes home:
“To answer your question, I was freed three months ago, but I’m staying an extra year because we got renewed for another season. Look for me on ‘CSI: Guantanamo Bay.’ Enclosed are some publicity photos of me and the cast.
(Contact Dale McFeatters at McFeattersD(at)SHNS.com)