It is the 10th anniversary of the opening of the prison at Guantánamo. It represents one of the darkest events in American history. In order for Guantánamo to exist required a complete moral, ethical and legal breakdown of our system of government which is supposed to be based on the rule of law. Democracy Now! interviewed the former chief prosecutor at Guantánamo, Colonel Morris Davis. In 2007, Col. Davis resigned from that position in protest to what was happening in the prison. He said this…
I think we need to close Guantánamo. It’s become such a negative symbol, like Abu Ghraib. Just the term itself, “Guantánamo,” around the world conveys a message about the United States and what we represent. It was interesting yesterday hearing the State Department spokesman—or spokeswoman talking about the case of Amir Hekmati, the American citizen convicted in Iranian court, which is indeed unfortunate. But she criticized their process, saying that here’s a guy that was detained under suspicious circumstances, had a trial in secret, using a confession that was coerced. And I’m sitting there looking at this, going, “It sounds an awful lot like what we do at Guantánamo.” So we lose our moral standing and our ability to really complain when others do pretty much what we’ve done at Guantánamo. So it’s not in our interest to maintain that kind of image around the world.
In my opinion it is a massive understatement to say that it’s not in our national interest to maintain that image around the world. Regardless of what the “image” is, to say the actions of the U.S. government are illegal and immoral, while true, doesn’t seem to convey the gravity of the crimes. Simple theft is illegal and immoral. What has gone on for years at Guantánamo and other secret prisons is monstrous and vile. The kind of evil that does great harm, not only to the prisoners but to the perpetrators as well. The U.S. has accepted young men and women into the military and either turned them into monsters or emotional basket-cases. The darkest and most base of human potential has been nurtured and emboldened.
Omar Deghayes, a Libyan citizen was held for five years in Guantánamo Prison. He now resides in the UK. Deghayes was picked up in Pakistan while there with his wife and small child. He was a victim of a widespread practice that grew out of the rewards given by the U.S. for identifying a terrorist. Unscrupulous Pakistanis in the government would literally sell Arabs to the Americans. Any Arab who lived in Pakistan for a period of time was fair game.
Mr. Deghayes says this about the treatment of detainees:
And what I can describe is the conditions for many, many people who are still there in Guantánamo and in Bagram and in other secret prisons, where people are subjected to all sorts of humiliation and mistreatment. People are locked up in isolation camps. They are put through such mistreatment that many people have, we heard, died. And people lost their hands, lost their eyes, lost their limbs. Some people were subjected to sleep deprivation. They weren’t allowed to sleep. They were kept into cells where lights are open 24 hours every day and night, and they had to live under those conditions for six years. People were, where we were, subjected to beatings, fear every day, daily fear, and all sorts of mistreatment, without being convicted of any crime, which is—which is the most unacceptable thing. If you think about it, 10 years, a decade, and there are many people still in prison, and they haven’t been convicted of anything, and they’re subjected to all sorts of unlawfulness. The guards could do anything they wanted, in simple terms.
I know, myself, of many people who have lost limbs—and say, “We know people who have died,” a couple of people who have died in Guantánamo. We know people who sexually—everybody was sexually abused and the torture that went on and the stress position that went on. This was the norm in Guantánamo.
On the question if prisoners were tortured at Guantánamo, Col. Davis says:
I don’t think there’s any doubt. I mean, I will—yes, I would say that there was torture. Susan Crawford, again, a Dick Cheney protégée, said there was torture. John McCain has said waterboarding was torture, and we’ve admitted we’ve waterboarded. There have been at least five judges in federal court and military courts that have said detainees were tortured. And again, it’s regrettable, the Obama administration’s utter lack of leadership. You know, we’re a party to the Convention Against Torture that says there’s no justification whatsoever for torture. There’s a duty to investigate, to prosecute and to provide an avenue for civil remedies. And the Obama administration has completely ignored their responsibility.
According to Donald Rumsfeld on conditions at Guantánamo:
That if someone looked down from Mars on the United States for the last three days, they would conclude that America is what’s wrong with the world. America is not what’s wrong with the world. And what’s taking place down there is responsible. It’s humane. It’s legal. It’s proper. It’s consistent with the Geneva Conventions. And after a period, that will sink in. Let there be no doubt.
Col. Davis also spoke about NDAA & the 2012 election campaign:
And on New Year’s Eve, he signed it into law, which is not a dramatic departure from what the policy has been for the last few years, but now it’s law, where Guantánamo appears to be made permanent, to where the military—and it’s not a role that the military wants—has become the bureau of prisons for terrorism suspects. So it’s—you know, in this season of campaign in 2012, nobody is going to get elected or re-elected saying, “I stood up for the rights of detainees at Guantánamo.” And so, on the far right, you’ve got—it seems that no one can be too dumb or too hateful in campaigning on the right.
171 people still remain imprisoned at Guantánamo. An unknown number of detainees are held in secret prisons around the world. The lack of rights extended to the detainees results (among other things) in a complete lack of motivation for the government to provide anything resembling a speedy trial. Of the hundreds of prisoners at Guantánamo, according to Col Davis, there have been exactly six military trials in ten years. As we have come to find out, many detainees were similar to Omar Dehayes, innocent of any crime which would warrant their incarceration.
There will always be the risk of innocent people unjustly incarcerated. It happens in the U.S. albiet in a relatively small percent of criminal cases. Because people are paid a bounty for suspected terrorists, it incentivises misconduct. Some estimates are that as many as 70% should never have been detained. Of course determining that someone was wrongly detained requires some kind of a process. Hmm, it seems that the American judicial system has something ready made for that. If only the administration had confidence in our legal system, we might have avoided this whole mess as well as not sullied our standing in the world on legal matters. No small extra benefit is that we would not have inadvertently acted as recruitment cheerleaders for alQaeda.