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In the spring of 2016, I asked a student of mine to do me a favor and figure out which day would be the 100th before Barack Obama’s presidency ended. October 12th, he reported back, and then asked me the obvious question: Why in the world did I want to know?

The answer was simple. Years before I had written a book about Guantánamo’s first 100 days and I was looking forward to writing an essay highlighting that detention camp’s last 100 days. I had been waiting for this moment almost eight years, since on the first day of his presidency Obama signed an executive order to close that already infamous offshore prison within a year.

I knew exactly what I would write. The piece would narrate the unraveling of that infamous detention facility, detail by detail, like a film running in reverse. I would have the chance to describe how the last detainees were marched onto planes (though not, as when they arrived, shackled to the floor, diapered, and wearing sensory-deprivation goggles as well). I would mention the dismantling of the kitchen, the emptying of the garrison, and the halting of all activities.

Fifteen years after it was first opened by the Bush administration as a crucial site in its Global War on Terror, I would get to learn the parting thoughts of both the last U.S. military personnel stationed there and the final detainees, just as I had once recorded the initial impressions of the first detainees and their captors when Gitmo opened in January 2002. I would be able to dramatize the inevitable interagency dialogues about security and safety, post-Guantánamo, and about preparing some of those detainees for American prison life. Though it had long been a distant dream, I was looking forward with particular relish to writing about the gates slamming shut on that symbol of the way the Bush administration had sent injustice offshore and about the re-opening of the federal courts to Guantánamo detainees, including some of those involved in the planning of the 9/11 attacks.

I was eager to describe the sighs of relief of those who had fought against the very existence of that prison and what it had been like, year after year, to continue what had long seemed to many of them like a losing battle. I could almost envision the relief on the worn faces of the defense attorneys and psychologists who had come to know firsthand the torment of the Gitmo prisoners, some still in their teens, who had been consigned to that state of endless limbo, many of them tortured psychologically and sometimes physically. I also looked forward — and call me the dreamiest of optimists here — to collecting statements of remorse from government and military types who had at one time or another shared responsibility for the Gitmo enterprise.

Unlike me, most critics and activist opponents of that detention facility had long ago given up hope that Obama would ever follow through on his initial executive order. Across the years, the reasons for doing so were manifold. Some turned pessimistic in the spring of 2009 when, five months after he took the oath of office, the president let it be known that indefinite detention — the holding of individuals without either charges or plans to try or release them — would remain a key aspect of Washington’s policy going forward. A collective cry of outrage came from the ACLU, the Center for Constitutional Rights, and other organizations that had long focused on the legal, moral, and political black hole of Gitmo. From there, it seemed like an endless slide to the idea that even closing Guantánamo wouldn’t finish off indefinite detention. (The heart and soul of Guantánamo, in other words, would simply be transposed to prisons in the U.S.)

Some lost hope over the years as the process of challenging the detention of Gitmo’s prisoners in federal court — known as filing a writ of habeas corpus — increasingly proved a dead-end. After a couple of years in which detainees were granted release by the lower court approximately 75% of the time, reversals and denials began to predominate, bringing the habeas process to a virtual halt in 2011, a sorry situation Brian Foster, a prominent habeas lawyer from Covington and Burling LLP, has laid out clearly.

Then, in the 2011 National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA), Congress instituted a ban on the transfer of any Gitmo detainee to the United States for any purpose whatsoever — trial, further detention, or release. If federal courts wouldn’t deal with them and federal prisons couldn’t hold them, then how in the world could Guantánamo ever close?

Still others lost hope as, in the Obama years, newly constituted military commissions that were meant to try the prisoners at Guantánamo became a collective fool’s errand. Since 2002, more prisoners (nine) have died there than have been successfully tried by those military commissions (eight). And of the eight convictions they got, two by trial and six by plea bargain, four have already been thrown out in whole or in part.

In other words, those commissions, the Obama administration’s answer to detention without trial, never worked. Pre-trial hearings, underway for years, in the cases still pending are expected to continue well into the 16th year since the attacks for which the defendants are to be tried took place. The chief prosecutor for the five 9/11 defendants who were brought to Gitmo in 2006 and charged in 2012, has recently — without the slightest sense of irony or remorse — proposed that their trials begin in March 2018. With appeals, they might conceivably conclude in the third decade of this century.

The Last 100 Days That Weren’t

Add it all up and you had a steamroller of beyond-ominous facts suggesting that Guantánamo would never shut down. As the last days of the Obama presidency approached, it seemed as if I were the only person left with any faith that our 44th president would keep his day-one promise before leaving office. At times, I found my own optimism disturbing, but I couldn’t give it up and, to be fair to myself, I wasn’t just stubbornly refusing to add to the negativity around me. There were reasons for my optimism, however Pollyanna-ish it might have been.

After all, it was obvious that Gitmo was utterly shutdownable. After a century of tackling issues related to national security, the federal courts were more than up to dealing with whatever was involved in such cases (despite the claims of congressional Republicans). There was never any excuse for Guantánamo. By the end of the Obama years, there had been federal prosecutions of nearly 500 individuals accused of terrorism, including both the perpetrators of lethal attacks and individuals who had trained with the al-Qaeda leadership, and unlike at Gitmo, federal courts had lawfully and effectively put the guilty behind bars.

Classified evidence had been handled in a way that disclosed no sensitive information and yet allowed public trials to proceed. Juries had been repeatedly convened without risk to their well being, while perfectly reasonable security measures had been taken to protect courtrooms and court officers. True, the federal courts had largely run away from dealing with the widespread abuse and torture of prisoners in the war on terror, but in the one case in which a Guantánamo detainee, tortured at a CIA black site, had come into federal court, a judge had ruled that evidence obtained through torture could not be introduced and the trial had nevertheless proceeded swiftly to its conclusion.

In addition, although habeas proceedings had been yielding ever fewer releases of Gitmo prisoners, the tempo of hearings elsewhere to determine whether such individuals could be cleared and freed without trial had speeded up radically. In 2011, President Obama had initiated periodic review boards meant to identify individual detainees who no longer (or, in a number of cases, had never) posed a danger for release.

Then, in the fall of 2015, he appointed Lee Wolosky as special envoy for Guantánamo closure, again raising my hopes. I knew Wolosky, a no-nonsense lawyer who had served on the national security councils of both Bill Clinton and George W. Bush, and he seemed like the sort of man who would know how to broker the sensitive diplomatic deals that would get the job done. In fact, his work would result in the release to various willing countries of 75 prisoners, nearly 40% of the Gitmo population Obama had inherited. By the time he left office and Donald Trump entered it, the prison population had dwindled to 41: five prisoners cleared for release who still remained there when Wolosky went off the job; 10 military commissions cases; and 26 detainees whom Miami Herald journalist Carol Rosenberg aptly termed “forever prisoners” (to be held in indefinite detention because they were considered too dangerous for release and yet there wasn’t enough evidence to bring them to trial).

One more factor seemed to speak in favor of the logic of the prison being closed: the financial piece of the puzzle. The price per prisoner of keeping Guantánamo open kept soaring with each successful transfer of detainees. When Obama first took office, with 174 detainees in custody, the government was spending $4 million per detainee annually. With 41 detainees remaining, the cost has shot up to nearly $11 million per prisoner per year. This seemed to be potentially the most convincing argument of all, but as it turned out, Congress was unfazed by the extraordinary expense. It mattered not at all that transferring such prisoners to, say, the supermax prison in Florence, Colorado, where the most notorious terrorism convicts are commonly held, would have dropped that cost to approximately $78,000 per year.

And then there were those rumors that Obama might circumvent Congress entirely and simply close the prison by executive order. In fact, in February 2016 Congress rejected a closure plan submitted by the Pentagon and by July the Obama administration had decided not to pursue the option of an executive order to close the base.

Above all, I knew one thing: if Obama ever actually made that decision, especially with President-elect Donald Trump intent on keeping the place open, it could be done remarkably rapidly. As I’d found out while researching my book on Guantánamo’s early days, the military unit assigned to open Guantánamo Bay in January 2002 had been given only 96 hours to put together an initial facility consisting of open cages, interrogation huts, latrines, showers, and guard quarters, as well as food services, equipment, and telecommunications set-ups, most of which had to come from the mainland. There was no reason the prison couldn’t be similarly dismantled in a few days, especially since closure would initially only involve moving prisoners and guards, not taking apart the facility itself.

It was easy enough to imagine the steps to closure: speed up the review process; convince Congress that $11 million per prisoner was an unacceptable price tag; and yes, even perhaps swallow for the moment the idea of indefinite detention in the United States. Unfortunately, I wasn’t the president.

A Utopian Op-Ed on Gitmo’s Closing

As it turned out, of course, the pessimists couldn’t have been more on target. On Inauguration Day, Gitmo was still open, awaiting a new president who seems determined to fill it up all over again, ensuring that in the rest of the world — and the Islamic world in particular — the United States would forever be associated with a place into whose DNA was etched abuse, torture, and injustice. The war on terror, the forever war, would now have its forever prisoners as well.

Today, Gitmo’s closure appears to be as inconceivable as shutting down the unending war on terror that birthed it. I will never, it seems, have the opportunity to compare the departure of its prisoners to their arrival, never be able to run that terrible film, that blot on our country, backwards. The legislative path is already being set for Gitmo to be eternally ours. In mid-February, 11 Republican senators wrote a letter requesting that President Trump suspend the periodic review boards and turn Guantánamo back into a prison that accepts detainees. (The last new detainee had been brought there in 2008, during the waning days of the presidency of George W. Bush.) Now, the new administration has reportedly identified its first potential new detainee in nine years.

It’s easy enough to see why this is a bad idea. The backlash in the Muslim world (and not only there) will be intense and long lasting. Even a number of top-ranking officials from the Bush administration have come to this conclusion, including President Bush himself who noted that Guantánamo “had become a propaganda tool for our enemies and a distraction for our allies.” Former CIA Director David Petraeus has similarly pointed out that “the existence of Gitmo has indeed been used by the enemy against us.” Former Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen noted that Guantánamo “has been a recruiting symbol for those extremists and jihadists who would fight us.” Emphasizing America’s “dismal reputation,” former Republican Secretaries of State Henry Kissinger, Colin Powell, and James Baker joined their Democratic peers Warren Christopher and Madeleine Albright in recommending its closure.

For 15 years, opponents of Guantánamo have insisted that its existence could change the character — and destiny — of the country. In its refusal to honor domestic, military, or international law, it has already opened the door to a new exceptionalist vision of the law. Unfortunately, Guantánamo is now a fixture of our landscape, as much an institution as new standards for the surveillance of American citizens, which means I may never get to write that piece about its last 100 days unless I resort to fiction.

If I did, I’d skip all the details about the prosaic negotiations that would undoubtedly have to go on to close it. Instead, in my vision, the old-fashioned spirit of American justice and law would simply rise up organically from the body politic and reframe Guantánamo as the place of sadness and shame that it’s been from its earliest days.

What I’d write would be too succinct for even the shortest utopian novel. Think of it instead as the utopian op-ed that no paper will ever publish, the one in which the desire to be lawful and a deep belief that decency and security go hand in hand prevailed. In my utopian fantasy, in the world I fear I will never see, in the American world whose absence I mourn to this day, Guantánamo will be closed not because of calculations related to its cost or the inefficiency of its military commissions or even global realpolitik. It will be closed because it’s the only right thing to do. Otherwise there will be another set of forever prisoners — and I’m not thinking about the future terror suspects that Donald Trump will send there, presumably forever. I’m thinking about us. For as long as Gitmo remains open, whether we know it or not, we’re imprisoned there, too, and so is the American way of life.

Karen J. Greenberg, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law School and author of The Least Worst Place: Guantánamo’s First 100 Days. Her latest book is Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State. She will never write The Least Worst Place: Guantánamo’s Last 100 Days . Rose Sheela and Elizabeth Hilton contributed research for this article.

(Republished from TomDispatch by permission of author or representative)
• Category: Foreign Policy • Tags: Guantanamo, War on Terror 
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  1. From the G2mil blog:

    Jan 8, 2011 – Obama’s Gitmo Ploy

    Closing the American POW camp in Cuba was one of Candidate Obama’s top selling points. Note that the International Red Cross deemed these “detainees” POWs, but the U.S. Government ignored its commitment to the Geneva Conventions and refused to treat them as POWs as required. In his first day in office, Obama signed an executive order closing Gitmo within one year. Nothing happened for two years, and a series of vague excuses were given. Recall that Obama never promised to free those POWs, just to move them into our established civilian justice system where over 300 people have been convicted of varied terrorist charges since 9-11.

    It is obvious that “someone” overruled Obama. Now “they” have provided him with cover by prohibiting the use of Pentagon funds to move them to the USA. “Their” propaganda outlets like the New York Times have spun a tale where Obama still wants to close Gitmo, but can’t. In reality, moving those hundred remaining prisoners to the USA should cost nothing. Navy ships routinely visit Gitmo. One of them could haul inmates back to the USA on a regular training mission. If that worries lawyers, Coast Guard cutters could haul them to the USA, just like the drug runners they often capture. They often stop at Gitmo and are funded by the Department of Homeland Security.

    Yet another option is to dispatch one of the ten large passenger aircraft used by the U.S. Government to shuttle inmates between prisons in the USA. (above) These are not charters, but a permanent airline manned and funded by the Department of Justice, which transports hundreds of dangerous felons on a daily basis. Obama could order a “ConAir” aircraft flown to Gitmo tomorrow, empty that disreputable prison camp in one hour, and turn off the lights at Gitmo before Congress or the media found out. Whatever one thinks about the treatment of terror suspects, everyone can agree that “someone” has told Obama that he can’t close Gitmo, and “their” media has convinced Americans that Obama wants to close it, but is prohibited from doing so.

  2. alexander says:

    Thank you for a very thoughtful essay, Karen.

    I am well aware of the Guantanamo bay issues, and like you, have pondered them for years.

    Let us not be dishonest with ourselves. After 9-11, there was a crystal clear mandate from the American people to bring the perpetrators of this horrible crime, to justice.

    If you ask most Americans, today, whether there should be a special place in hell for the individuals responsible for this heinous act ….., they would say “absolutely “.

    Guantanamo Bay should function ,both in reality and symbolically,as a repository for the terrorists responsible and found guilty, for 9-11.

    The failure of Guantanamo Bay, what makes it the pinnacle of evil fraud, is that almost all of the prisoners sequestered there ,were never involved in 9-11, and the vast majority that have been held , have never even been convicted of the crime for which they were imprisoned.

    Guantanamo Bay fails us all, not because there shouldn’t be a “special place in hell for the 9-11 perps”,…… There should……But because of the grotesque dearth of evidence that any of the prisoners held there, were ever responsible.

    All the authentic, “proven in a court of law”, perpetrators of 9-11 “should” be held in Guantanamo Bay…forever.

    Most Americans would agree this is justice.

    Guantanamo Bay, like nearly all of the policies we have enacted under Neocon tutelage since 9-11, is fraudulent and criminal to its core.

    It is the opposite of what it is supposed to be….and consequently a complete mockery of justice.

    Just like the catastrophic Iraq War.

    It is profoundly dissatisfying to every American that we have become a nation where systemic fraud, dishonesty and criminal belligerence underwrite our policies, NOT justice and the rule of law.

    To correct this, we need to hold to account all those who have deceived us, and make them pay dearly for their deceptions.

    Perhaps they are the ones who belong in Guantanamo Bay, most of all.

    • Agree: jacques sheete
    • Replies: @alexander
    , @interesting
  3. … because it’s the only right thing to do.

    Never, ever expect any person in power to to the right thing because it’s the right thing to do. Especially if it’s the only right thing to do.

  4. n230099 says:

    “The Last 100 Days That Weren’t”

    It already feels like ‘the last 8 years that weren’t’. Obama now seems like the Presidency that never happened.

  5. alexander says:

    Dear Karen,

    If I might add.

    Consider a situation where there are 2000 brutal murders in the state of Illinois over a two year period.

    and nearly 99% of those incarcerated were NOT guilty of these crimes. yet they are sitting and languishing in our prisons.

    This is a profoundly dissatisfying scenario to American taxpayers in exactly the same way Guantanamo has proven itself to be.

    Not only are we being taxed to incarcerate innocents, but by doing so the real perpetrators are left free to commit more crimes.

    This kind of fraud is a complete betrayal to our system of justice, and a pernicious use of taxpayer money.

    We want the REAL murderers caught and incarcerated so they are off our streets,…. not a dog and pony show.

    We need to undo and unwind the dishonesty that permeates the directives of our agencies, so Americans are no longer defrauded by their services.

    We are all failed when this does not occur.

    How are any of us served, as citizens of our country, if some Afghan peasant is languishing in Guantanamo bay for decades, who was not only NOT involved in 9-11, he doesn’t even know what Manhattan is, or where to find it on a map.

  6. Brabantian says: • Website

    It is both astonishing & tragic that it took people like Karen J Greenberg, the full 8 years of Barack Obama’s 2 terms, to realise Obama is a total fraud who worked for USA oligarchs … but Karen Greenberg of Fordham Law School is by career committed to the hoax that the USA ‘system’ has legitimacy, along with frauds like the child-rape friendly ACLU ‘American Civil Liberties Union’ supporting the Man-Boy Love Association, & in general ignoring most systemic civil liberties violations & the USA judge bribery & law firm corruption complex.

    It was quite obvious by Obama’s first few months in office that he was a fraud, Obama refusing to lift a finger for aged elderly facing-death political prisoners such as Leonard Peltier … Obama who had been a heavy illegal pot smoker & ‘choomer’ in youth, also refused to lift a finger for hundreds of thousands of his fellow pot smokers, mostly also black, languishing in prison … Obama’s war crime murders of thousands of women & children with his drone planes … etc

    Obama continued the wave of barbaric USA executions he could have ended with a stroke of his pen, in this era when 85% of the world has already suspended the death penalty & nearly all the few nations practicing it are Muslim, plus a few empire-fantasy nations, China, India, Japan & USA.

    This leaves Richard Nixon as the only USA President under whom their were no judicially-ordered USA executions, given the 1967-77 de facto moratorium created by more honest judges that the USA used to have … Gerald Ford brought back the death penalty his final days in office with a firing squad, Jimmy Carter confirmed the revival … USA even hanging 2 people in the 90s in Bill Gates’ Washington State & Joe Biden’s Delaware.

    Obama of course is in genuine fear for his life if he calls out the USA oligarchy, who have Obama blackmailed over his gay lovers, being registered as a Muslim in the past etc.

    Of the last 10 US Presidents, 4 have been attacked with regime change removal actions. Two Presidents were shot – John F Kennedy killed in 1963, & then Ronald Reagan in 1981, wounded by a shooter linked to the family of then Vice-President Bush.

    Two other US Presidents underwent CIA-tied ‘impeachment’ deceptions … Bill Clinton in the 1990s, when he balked at plans to bomb Serbia & kill thousands of people, was hit with the ‘impeachment’ farce with agent Monica Lewinsky … Clinton submitted & began bombing shortly after his stage-managed ‘acquittal’.

    But first was the 1974 Watergate ‘Silent Coup’ using Navy intel officer Bob Woodward planted as a Washington Post fake ‘brave reporter’, Woodward having worked in intel directly under US Joint Chiefs military head Admiral Maurer.

    Woodward then trained Dick Cheney’s pal & biographer Bart Gellman, who laughably was the 1st person to allegedly receive the fake ‘leaks’ of hoaxer ‘Edward Snowden’ before Rothschild employee & ex-gay-pornographer Glenn Greenwald stepped in as point man for the Snowden scam … more info here, the report major governments have on the Snowden fraud that followed the hoax of not-really-living at Ecuador-embassy faker Julian Assange:

    • Replies: @Agent76
    , @utu
  7. Agent76 says:

    Did anyone actually believe it would happen?

    Jun 5, 2014 Bergdahl Debate Exposes History of US Terrorist Negotiations

    Abby Martin calls out the corporate media for its further superficial and absurd coverage of US soldier, Bowe Bergdahl, who was released by the Taliban in exchange for the release of five Guantanamo Bay detainees and is now being called a traitor and deserter before all the facts of his case are known.

  8. Gitmo is a symbol, and isn’t it silly to worry so much about symbols, instead of the substance? As long as the government continues to mess around in people’s lives all over the world, the spooks will do what spook do. So, if not in Gitmo, people will be held and tortured somewhere else, at places you’ve never heard about. Will that satisfy you?

  9. Agent76 says:

    Good share and thanks for this information and here is more good information.

    Feb 8, 2017 What I Learned From The Declassified CIA Archive

    The CIA has finally complied with the spirit of an executive order signed over two decades ago and made their archive of declassified 25+ year old documents available to the public. Today James explains what the archive is, how to access it, and the shoddy journalism that’s been produced so far about it in the lying establishment fake news dinosaur press.

  10. utu says:

    “Of the last 10 US Presidents, 4 have been attacked with regime change removal actions. ”

    Could you elaborate about the four?

  11. Art says:

    Off Topic:

    We live in epic times – what is currently going on in Washington will make the history books.

    The Deep State Democrats accuse Trump of colluding with Russia to get elected. Trump accuses the Democrat administration of spying on him.

    Really – which is most likely true?

    This cannot be settled without a major government upheaval involving both administrations, congress, and the courts. All domestic spying MUST be reviewed.

    With the Jew MSM on their side, the Democrats are winning some propaganda battles – but if they stop Trump from implementing his campaign promises there will be hell to play come next election.

    • Replies: @Art
  12. wait a minute….didn’t some one who promised hope and change also promise to close that place???

    I’m starting to think he was less than honest.

  13. @alexander

    “there was a crystal clear mandate from the American people to bring the perpetrators of this horrible crime, to justice”

    too bad that NEVER happened!!

  14. Art says:

    Here is more:

    Obama Advisor Rhodes Is Wrong: The President Can Order A Wiretap, And Why Trump May Have The Last Laugh

    by Tyler Durden


    Furthermore, while most Democrats – not to mention former president Obama himself – have been harshly critical of Trump’s comments, some such as former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau was quite clear in his warning to reporters that Obama did not say there was no wiretapping, effectively confirming it:

  15. mcohen says:

    We’ll that’s no.3 of 7 falling stars phillip weiss from mondoweiss

    No.4 coming in last week of the march 2017

  16. joe webb says:

    over Gitmo…”The backlash in the Muslim world (and not only there) will be intense and long lasting. Even more important than the backlash of the Muslim World over the conquest of Palestine by Zionism.”

    Forgive me for a little fib here, which I admit only moments later. The second sentence is made-up, as in fake, as in fictitious, as in false, as in Schumeresque.

    We are hearing the same stuff today over Trump’s finger in the dike of Muzzie immigration…it will further anger the muzzies. Stockholm Syndrome plus any port in a manure-storm of lib-rad pussy drivel. Or, menopausal agitation of the crazy lady Dems.

    9-11 happened because of Israel, and the invasion of Iraq, and muzzie terrorism continues on the exact same grounds. A handful of illegal or legal muzzie prisoners is just a squirt of camel piss compared to the theft of Palestine and all these Wars for The Jews.

    But let the jewgirl waft the piss of Gitmo toward the ultra-sensitive noses of the girl me-tooers. keeps the stench of Israel away. She is all for Legality, First Amendment, etc. right.

    Joe Webb

  17. bjondo [AKA "redwhiteblueorange"] says:

    The right thing to do:

    Why is Comey still FBI Director and not on his way to Guantanamo? And why aren’t these characters/traitors also not on their way to Guantanamo: Clapper, Brennan, Morell, Rogers? Grab David Brock and Soros to include in trip – one way.
    One cell, two cats – food or they’re food. Big cats.

  18. joe webb says:

    off point but….why do the TV gals almost always display their legs bare, and show as much skin up above, etc?

    Answer, shit and skin sell. It sells not only cuz red-blooded males like to look, but the gals too.

    This raises the question of emotion vs. rationality in TV news shows. Go to mexican TV and really get a peep-show of jiggle and bounce.

    Now I get it that folks like to look at good-looking people, both men and women, but jeeeeezzz, Trump should command that the ladies at least cover their skin and legs. This would also help relax 90 plus per cent of the ladies out there who spend piles of hard-won dough on you know…

    The guys are always dressed well, and covered up. This is sexy I guess to the ladies, who want their men Dressed for Success, while men want their ladies dressed for undress.

    human, all too human. And have you seen Liz Walker at OAN? A stunner who also is well armed intellectually. Quite a package of Whiteness. Whiz-Bang!JW

    I particular enjoy the ladies who qualify the station for femmie pee cee. Is that all right? and Blondes too. O my gosh. JW

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