“A nonpartisan, independent review of interrogation and detention programs in the years after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks concludes that ‘it is indisputable that the United States engaged in the practice of torture’ and that the nation’s highest officials bore ultimate responsibility for it.”
So began a page-one story in the New York Times that should have dominated public discussion for days and begun the process of coming to terms with this shameful chapter in American history. Unfortunately, the story ran April 16, the day after the Boston Marathon bombing, and thus got little notice. And just as attention on Boston was waning, the George W. Bush Library and Museum was dedicated in Dallas. Unsurprisingly, neither President Obama nor the ex-presidents assembled to celebrate the event (and the Bush administration), mentioned this “nonpartisan, independent review.”
It’s been pretty much consigned to the memory hole. But maybe it’s not too late to retrieve it.
The review was done by The Constitution Project’s Task Force on Detainee Treatment, which included members not normally associated with critics of the Bush administration, such as former Republican Rep. Asa Hutchinson (co-chairman), who was an undersecretary in the Bush administration’s Department of Homeland Security and administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration.
The task force concluded that in Iraq, Afghanistan, Guantanamo, and other places, American forces engaged in torture and other practices that violated U.S. laws and international treaties — conduct that has been condemned by the U.S. government when practiced by other governments. Such conduct has long been considered a war crime, the task force noted. While it stopped short of claiming that the highest government leaders explicitly called for the use of torture against detainees, it said the use was a consequence of the administration’s declaration that the Geneva Conventions did not apply to people captured in the “war on terror.” (PDF) The report states,
The Task Force believes there was no justification for the responsible government and military leaders to have allowed those lines to be crossed. Doing so damaged the standing of our nation, reduced our capacity to convey moral censure when necessary and potentially increased the danger to U.S. military personnel taken captive.
Democracy and torture cannot peacefully coexist in the same body politic. The Task Force also believes and hopes that publicly acknowledging this grave error, however belatedly, may mitigate some of those consequences and help undo some of the damage to our reputation at home and abroad.
The task force also found,
There is no firm or persuasive evidence that the widespread use of harsh interrogation techniques by U.S. forces produced significant information of value. There is substantial evidence that much of the information adduced from the use of such techniques was not useful or reliable.
It notes that some former officials insist their interrogation techniques were effective, adding, “but those officials say that the evidence of such success may not be disclosed for reasons of national security.” The task force discounts such assertions, however, because the former officials “generally include those people who authorized and implemented the very practices that they now assert to have been valuable tools in fighting terrorism.… It is reasonable to note that those former officials have a substantial reputational stake in their claim being accepted.” The task force went so far as to reject the claim that torture led to the locating of Osama bin Laden, citing the Senate Intelligence Committee finding to that effect. (The fundamental case against torture, of course, is not that it is ineffective, but that it is immoral.)
The task force also called attention to the continuing detention of prisoners at Guantanamo, over half of whom have long been cleared for release. At the moment 100 of the 166 prisoners are conducting a hunger strike, and 21 are being force-fed by nasal tube, which in itself has been called torture and is condemned by the task force. A majority of the task force called for civilian or military trials of some of the detainees and release of others to countries in which they will not be tortured. It continued,
Those prisoners who are deemed to still be a threat to the safety of the U.S. and its citizens and who would be difficult (a) to prosecute because they were subjected to torture or the relevant criminal laws did not apply overseas at the time of their conduct; or (b) to transfer due to lack of suitable receiving country, would be brought to the mainland United States and held in custody until a suitable place to transfer them was found. Their cases would be subject to periodic review.
This recommendation is not good enough. How can men be held indefinitely because the alleged evidence against them was obtained by torture and is inadmissible? That is grounds for release. But even worse is the recommendation from the two-member minority consisting of Hutchinson and Richard Epstein (yes, alas, that Richard Epstein):
As troubling as indefinite detention might be, there are currently no good or feasible alternatives. Those prisoners who are deemed to be a continuing threat to the United States and for whom a trial is not currently feasible, and where there is no other suitable country that will accept them, should remain in detention for the foreseeable future. They should not be brought to the U.S., and Guantánamo remains the best location to hold them.
Justice demands to know why people against whom there is apparently no trial-worthy evidence are to be left to rot in an American prison in Cuba. This is truly a disgrace. And notice the self-reinforcing nature of the argument. These people are said to be a threat, but holding them at Guantanamo sows the seeds of hostility and the desire for revenge. Even if they were tried and acquitted, they might be angry at the U.S. government for the treatment they received. Are they still to be held even if acquitted? (The Bush administration thought that in some cases, yes.)
It’s good to see that the task force report holds the Bush administration lawyers responsible for the mistreatment of detainees:
Lawyers in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel (OLC) repeatedly gave erroneous legal sanction to certain activities that amounted to torture and cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment in violation of U.S. and international law, and in doing so, did not properly serve their clients: the president and the American people.
Extraordinary rendition, the practice (begun in the Clinton years) of outsourcing torture to foreign governments, and abuse of detainees at secret CIA prisons, or “black sites,” also come in for condemnation as violations of international law. Unfortunately, the task force did not call for an end to turning people over to other governments; it simply recommended that there be more than “diplomatic assurances” that torture will not take place.
Refreshingly, physicians and psychologists are taken to task for their participation, in violation of age-old ethical standards, in the abuse of detainees, both by devising techniques that constituted torture and for failing to report abuses. It’s about time a floodlight was shined on this shameful conduct by medical and so-called mental-health professionals.
Also welcome is the recommendation that “the executive branch should declassify evidence regarding the CIA’s and military’s abuse and torture of captives.” We have a right to know what this lawless government did in our names.
The task force also called on the government to comply with its obligation under the Convention Against Torture to assure “that the victim of an act of torture obtains redress and has an enforceable right to fair and adequate compensation.” Quite the opposite has happened: “The United States has not complied with this requirement, in large part because of the government’s repeated, successful invocation of the state-secrets privilege in lawsuits brought by torture victims.” The Obama administration has been particularly determined to keep such suits out of court. This is a blot on the country.
The report further indicted the government for not complying with its obligation under the Convention Against Torture to “criminalize all acts of torture, attempts to commit torture, or complicity or participation in torture” and “proceed to a prompt and impartial investigation, wherever there is reasonable ground to believe that an act of torture has been committed in any territory under its jurisdiction.” It notes that “no CIA personnel have been convicted or even charged for numerous instances of torture in CIA custody.” Conspicuous by its absence is the call for prosecution of President Bush, Vice-President Dick Cheney, members of the Office of Legal Counsel who cooked up legal justifications for torture, CIA director George Tenet, and other top officials.
President Obama says “looking backwards” at past conduct is unproductive when it comes to the interrogation of detainees. That’s odd. The government doesn’t find it unproductive to look back when private individuals commit crimes. Why should government officers get special treatment?
We can only hope that someday, when these people are traveling abroad, they will be arrested and brought before the International Criminal Court.
Finally, the task force notes that Obama, despite apparent promises to end the abuses, has not lived up to expectations. Guantanamo is still open (he said this week he would push to close it), and reporter Jeremy Scahill has exposed the CIA’s continued participation in interrogations in a secret prison beneath Somalia’s National Security Agency. Scahill’s reporting reveals that the administration has simply outsourced torture — hardly an improvement over the Bush years. Of course, Obama also claims the power to kill people and to detain them indefinitely in a military prison without due process.
“The Obama administration has ended the most inhumane treatment of detainees,” the report states, “though some troubling questions about current policies remain unanswered. But it is unclear whether it has taken sufficient steps to prevent a future administration from resorting to torture or cruel treatment.”
When it comes to conserving the national-security state, it matters little which party is in power.
Each inmate at the US’ notorious Guantanamo Bay prison in Cuba, dubbed as the most expensive jail on Earth, costs Washington some $900,000 annually, a report says.
According to the Pentagon’s estimate, it spends around $150 million every year to run the prison and military court system at the US Naval Base in Cuba, Reuters said in a report on Friday.
With 166 prisoners who are currently in custody in Guantanamo Bay prison, the report adds, that amounts to an annual cost of $903,614 for each inmate.
Meanwhile, analysts say super-maximum security prisons in the US spend about $60,000 to $70,000 at most to keep their inmates.
The cost argument comes at a time when the severe budget-cutting process known as ‘sequestration’ is slated to slash some $109 billion in US spending up to the end of September 2013. It has also cut government services small and large.
“It’s extremely inefficient,” said Ken Gude, chief of staff and vice president at the liberal Center for American Progress think tank. He has followed developments at Guantanamo Bay prison since 2005.
“That … may be what finally gets us to actually close the prison. I mean the costs are astronomical, when you compare them to what it would cost to detain somebody in the United States,” Gude added.
He further said although it is difficult to say how much the US has spent overall on the infamous prison, “it is certainly more than $1 billion by a comfortable margin, I would say, probably more than $2 billion.”
Most of the 166 detainees being held at the jail have been cleared for release or were never charged – a situation that has attracted outcry from certain countries and human rights organizations.
Detainees began the hunger strike in February to protest against prison conditions and the detainees’ indefinite confinement. The strike has led to the force-feeding of nearly two dozen of the captives via tubes snaked up their nose and into their stomach.
The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) has urged the US President Barack Obama’s administration to mend the situation in Guantanamo that has compelled prisoners to starve themselves, saying that the act of force-feeding is akin to torture.
Washington’s failure to close Guantanamo and release indefinitely held detainees is a “clear breach of international law,” UN human rights chief Navi Pillay said in a statement on Friday, as the “desperate” hunger strike nears two months.
Calling the ongoing Guantanamo Bay prison hunger strike a “desperate,” but “scarcely surprising” act, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights expressed her “deep disappointment” of the US government’s inability to keep to its four-year-old pledge to shut down the controversial prison.
“We must be clear about this, the United States is in clear breach not just of its own commitments but also of international laws and standards that it is obliged to uphold,” Pillay said in a statement.
She condemned “the continuing indefinite incarceration of many of the detainees,” saying it “amounts to arbitrary detention,” and thus violates international law.
Pillay also said it undermines the US’ stance of a human rights “upholder,” and reminded that when other countries breach human rights standards, the US is the first to strongly criticize them for it.
According to Pillay, about half of the 166 Guantanamo detainees have been cleared for transfer either to home countries or third countries for resettlement, but haven’t been released. The other half may be doomed to keep “festering” in detention for an indefinite period of time, she added.
Of the 166 detainees, which come from 23 different countries, only nine have been charged or convicted of crimes.
According to official reports, some forty inmates have joined the current hunger strike in protest against their indefinite detention, which has already been going on for 59 days. The prisoners claim the number of those taking part is close to 130.
Some of the hunger strike participants are being force fed with liquid nutrients by means of tubes inserted through their noses into their stomachs, to counteract alarming weight loss.
The US military has started the forced feeding- a process the UN has compared to torture- despite opposition from the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) monitoring the prisoners’ condition. Military officials have also denied mistreating the prisoners, or breaking internationally recognized laws, saying that an “alternate narrative simply do not withstand intellectual rigor” as cited by Reuters.
President Obama “has not taken the necessary steps… when he had the power to” in connection with the release of Guantanamo detainees and prison closure, and is not using his “full powers” now that the process is blocked by a number of factors, Jonathon Hafetz, professor at the Seton Hall University School of Law told RT.
“You have the military continuing to press for holding detainees and use military commissions, rather than regular courts. Particularly, you have Congress, which has placed very onerous restrictions on transferring detainees to other countries, including detainees who the White House has cleared for transfer,” Hafetz said, speaking of the obstacles in the way of the infamous prison abolition.
There’s no doubt that international law is being broken in a number of respects in Guantanamo, Hafetz added.
The US has been violating international law by the “indefinite detention of individuals who don’t pose the risk of a threat,” and the prosecution in military tribunals have charged for offenses like “material support for terrorism or conspiracy,” which are not recognized as war crimes under international law, the lawyer said.
“The absence of accountability for the torture and the other abuses that occurred at Guantanamo is another violation of international law – the state has a duty to investigate and prosecute offences, and the US has not done that,” Hafetz added.
- Human rights watchdogs turn blind eye on Gitmo hunger strikers (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Activists join Guantanamo hunger strike in week of fast (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Hundreds of prisoners of the US War of Terror languish in prisons around the world, in Guantanamo and on the US mainland. Some have been there as long as 12 years, some have sentences that extend beyond the span of their life; many have never been charged with a crime and more than half the prisoners who remain in Guantanamo have had their original charges dropped or have served their full sentence, but are barred by US law from being repatriated to their homeland and therefore can not be released. Even the few prisoners in Guantanamo who are considered ‘high value’ are mostly charged with thought crimes, plans that were never carried out in any significant detail. In many cases, the leads that initially brought them to the attention of the FBI or CIA have proved to be inaccurate.
Amina Masood Janjua is a Pakistani woman whose husband was abducted from the streets of Rawalpindi by Pakistani President Musharraf’s thugs shortly after 9/11. Masood Janjua was an honest citizen going about his business, and his wife has been looking for him ever since. He wasn’t the only one picked up this way, but his wife Amina was the one who started an organization to advocate for the hundreds of men disappeared in Pakistan after 911. In the early days of the War on Terror, hundreds of men were pulled from the streets and countryside of Pakistan to feed the US government’s insatiable appetite for Terrorists. Some were sent directly to Guantanamo; some were moved here and there before being sent to Guantanamo; some were deposited more or less permanently in one of several prisons at the US base in Bagram, in a secret prison in Pakistan or somewhere else in Libya, Syria, Thailand elsewhere into a secret array of American prisons. Teenagers have been picked up on the Afghan border and sold to ‘the Americans’ as terrorists, who must have figured out it wasn’t true in some cases because 50 of them remain in the Bagram prison though after 5-10 years they have never been charged with a crime.
And then there are the residents of the Federally Administered Tribal Area (FATA) in Pakistan, subject to ongoing surveillance, missile strikes and bombings by U.S. Predator drones. The FATA is something like a combination of Pine Ridge Reservation with Gaza. Indigenous peoples who live there have, since the British Raj, been allowed to keep their tribal culture and their ‘sovereignty’ in exchange for giving up their rights as citizens of Pakistan. They are governed by a Federal Agent who makes final decisions on the distribution of social resources, food, medicine and guns, and who oversees the tribal justice system with the power to intervene at any time, pass judgement on any individual and determine a sentence. Currently, due to the ongoing violence that has spilled over from the Afghan war (Taliban on the ground and drone strikes from above), citizens of Pakistan from outside the region are not permitted to enter the FATA region, and those who live there cannot leave without passing through government checkpoints. Not surprisingly, they are generally apprehended by their fellow countrymen with fear and loathing, and pity.
One hundred and sixty six men remain in Guantanamo. There are a handful of so called ‘high value’ prisoners whose cases are deemed to be related to actual terrorist attacks. But all were severely tortured at secret prisons when first detained, and a number of them have cases based on crimes that were nothing more than loose talk, association with the wrong people and/or claims that are clearly contradicted by the evidence that has unfolded while they were in custody. Eighty Six of them have been cleared for release, but are retained in detention for political reasons. At least 28, but possibly over 100 of the prisoners are on a life threatening hunger strike. They are choosing death over spending the rest of their lives in torment. At this time, 11 are being force-fed. Even death is denied them. Their lawyers, who complained on their behalf, have been denied access to them. Non-military flights to Guantanamo have been canceled. The office created by Obama in the early days of his presidency to close Guantanamo has itself been closed, and new monies have been allocated to expand the Guantanamo Prison facilities.
In the US ‘homeland’, Muslims, including immigrants and African Americans from impoverished neighborhoods; people who are naive, ignorant, immature, along with recent immigrants whose cultural habits and political stances do not fit a jingoistic standard of normalcy and patriotism, are accused of thought crimes or manipulated into participating in fake crimes after being targeted for sting operations that resemble the cons used to part old people, the disabled or other potentially needy or naive people from their money, then incarcerated with lengthy sentences made possible by a so called ‘terrorism enhancement’ to whatever ‘crime’ they are alleged to have committed.
Men like Yassin Aref, a Kurdish refugee from Northern Iraq, have been targeted due to possible social contacts made in their home countries and imprisoned for long periods of time despite having committed no crime. Yassin’s name and phone number were found in a private phone book picked up in ‘terrorist hideout’ near his home town after it was bombed by American forces during the Iraq War. Could someone there have known him? Of course, this is a land of small villages where everyone is connected one way or the other. Like many college students, Yassin worked for a political organization which promised sovereignty for his Kurdish homeland, a popular stance in Kurdistan, particularly after the scorched earth policies of Saddam Hussein in the region. Yassin gave rides once or twice to a man who was later designated a ‘terrorist’ by the US government.
Meanwhile dozens of immigrants and poor African Americans, who constitute the majority of indigenous Muslims in this country, have been targeted, manipulated into committing or attempting to commit a crime, then imprisoned as terrorists. Men desperate or naive enough to take the provocateur’s bait, are conned and confused and recorded for the convenience of the courts by provocateurs who profit handsomely from their work. The provocateurs, often petty criminals, are bankrolled by the FBI, moved from job to job when they are successful and absolved of any prior or concurrent crimes they may commit. Not a bad deal for a sociopath with a criminal record and a taste for good living.
In one unusual case, a Pakistani National named Aafia Siddiqui, a woman who had lived in the US for more than 10 years during which she earned a PhD in Cognitive Neuroscience (the physical underpinnings of learning), was abducted in Pakistan near her parents home, where she had been staying, and incarcerated somewhere in Afghanistan or Pakistan, later released in the Afghan city of Ghazni, only to be immediately rearrested, was later convicted of a crime that she may or may not have committed in attempting to escape after the second arrest. I say ‘may or may not have committed’ because the testimony against her is not corroborated by a single iota of material evidence. The original charges against her, which date back to a time shortly preceding her arrest in Pakistan, seem to be based on the testimony of one or more high profile 9/11 suspects who may have met her at some point or may have been told her name by their interrogators, and the testimony of an abusive ex-husband.
Saturday, March 30th, was the anniversary of Dr. Aafia Siddiqui’s initial abduction. There is a lot of mystery around this event, and the American Government persists in denying they held her for the 5 years that she was missing. However, Aafia Siddiqui had her 3 young children with her at the time of their abduction. When the middle child, Miriam, who was 4 years old at the time of her abduction, was dropped off near her mother’s family home in Karachi shortly after the time of her trial, she spoke only American English. The older boy, 6 or 7 at the time of his abduction, was with her Dr. Siddiqui when she was arrested the 2nd time in Ghazni, but she did not appear to recognize him. He too is now living with his Grandmother and Aunt in Karachi. He has required special support to deal with with traumatic memories of years in prisons, and has needed surgeries to realign his hips, dislocated and misaligned due to long periods in restraints during a time of rapid growth. The baby, less than a few months old at the time of their disappearance in March 2003, has not been seen since.
The U.S. authorities adamantly deny having held Dr. Siddiqui prior to her arrest in Ghazni in 2008. However, they also contend that, after being shot and mortally wounded by U.S. soldiers (in self defense), she unleashed a verbal torrent off vulgar anti-American expletives in English, wherein the word “F*#!” appeared more than once. This, admittedly unseemly, behavior would seem very odd if she really had not been in the company of Americans for the previous 5 years. Had she been in hiding in a remote Baloch village with the womenfolk, or dealing daily with conservative Islamist clerics, plotting the ruin of the United States, a country where she had lived for most of her adult life, and where, if not a citizen, she was engaged in numerous good works and charitable projects, where, in fact, she is accused of wanting to convert as many people as possible to her beloved Islam, would she have the habit of expressing outrage in the common vernacular of the United States?
There were a number of psychological analyses prior to Dr. Siddiqui’s trial because of her paranoia and inability to relate appropriately to her surroundings. Initially, she was declared incompetent to stand trial but later, based on new testimony and the reversal of the state psychologist’s initial report the decision was set aside. The psychologist who changed his mind testified that, after he saw the government denial that they had ever held her, he came to the conclusion that she was a malingerer rather than a person suffering severe PTSD, as in his initial conclusion. Dr. Siddiqui’s family and her lawyers all firmly believe her story. Evidence, including the return of her daughter and and some memories that her son has, along with testimony by the Pakistani government official responsible for her initial abduction, has emerged to support her claims.
Dr. Siddiqui was convicted by a jury on all counts but without premeditation. And yet, the judge sentenced her with the ‘terrorism enhancement’ to 86 years, more than the future length of her life for crimes that would normally entail a 10-12 year sentence. The chain of accusations on which the terrorism enhancement was based were not clearly articulated in court as charges, and therefore could not be challenged. Dr. Siddiqui is currently incarcerated in Carswell Medical Center in Texas, a hospital prison with a record of patient abuse. Letters sent to her are returned. Calls are not received.
The prison says that she refuses all of her mail and her phone calls. Given her state of despair at the time of her conviction, it is possible this is true. However, it would seem questionable in light of the way the mental health issues were handled at her trial. A healthy person would not refuse all mail and phone calls. If she is psychologically disturbed enough to be doing that, then she should not have been deemed competent to stand trial at that time as she was not malingering. Even if she were disturbed at the time of her trial, a retreat from all outside contact would indicate a deterioration in her condition and an environment not conducive to the restoration of her mental health. I suppose a sentence in a mental hospital that lasts as long as twice your remaining lifespan would fit that description, but is it not a cruel and unusual punishment? And then again, maybe they are stretching the truth to hide a different kind of cruel and unusual treatment.
Nearly twelve years have passed since 9/11/01 when the US began building the myth of a fanatical gang of international terrorists targeting the United States with mayhem and murder. After seven years of fear and loathing, a new president came into office on a wave of hope. Yet, Guantanamo is still open for business and the remaining residents are farther than ever from release, as are most of the CIA Black Sites. Rendering of prisoners is rare, but the program still exists. U.S. Drone attacks in the FATA have increased exponentially, while only a handful of the ‘disappeared’ have been returned to their families. When Bagram is returned to the Afghans, the unindicted Pakistani youth will remain in the custody of their American jailers. New cases based on FBI sting operations are regularly heard in the Federal Courts resulting in convictions and unusually lengthy sentences, often in Communication Management Units where the prisoners are held in virtual solitary confinement at locations far removed from their families. The Obama White House has released formal justifications for executing American citizens without trial.
Dr. Aafia Siddiqui remains in Carswell FMC where she has been joined by Lynne Stewart, a 73 year old America lawyer who has selflessly defended the poor and the disenfranchised and those who have been fodder for the FBI terrorist franchise throughout her career. Lynne Stewart, convicted of a technical legal violation in her defense of one of her clients, was sentenced to more than 10 years in prison. Currently, she is suffering from stage 4 cancer, but the authorities say she cannot have a ‘compassionate release’ for treatment. It will only be available when they are sure she is going to die within a few months. I guess it is an equal opportunity victory that at least 2 women have joined the thousands of men tortured and persecuted in this War of Terror.
But here in the land of democracy and freedom, where we preach about opportunity for all, where we righteously condemn other countries for unequal treatment of women, where we talk endlessly about freedom and justice, it’s time we take a look at what is really going on and who we really are. Perhaps then we will set aside ‘hope’ and start thinking about active change. Until then we are all prisoners of The War on Terror.
Judy Bello is active with the Upstate (NY) Coalition to Ground the Drones and End the Wars. She traveled to Pakistan with the CodePink Peace Delegation last Fall. The Coalition is planning, Resisting Drones, Global War and Empire, a weekend of networking, education and action in Syracuse, NY April 26-28. You can learn more about the weekend events at http://upstatedroneaction.org
To restore good relations with Latin America and the Caribbean, damaged by several years of neglect, is one of many difficult tasks now facing the Obama administration. A measure that could have far-reaching consequences and notably improve the U.S.’ battered image in the continent would be to return Guantánamo to the Cuban people.
Guantánamo has a convoluted history. Initially, the U.S. government obtained a 99-year lease on the 45 square mile area beginning in 1903. The resulting Cuban-American Treaty established, among other things, that for the purposes of operating naval and coaling stations in Guantánamo, the U.S. had “complete jurisdiction and control” of the area. However, it was also recognized that the Republic of Cuba retained ultimate sovereignty.
In 1934, a new treaty reaffirmed most of the lease conditions, increased the lease payment to the equivalent of $3,085 in U.S. dollars per year, and made the lease permanent unless both governments agreed to end it or the U.S. decided to abandon the area.
In the confusion of the early days of the Cuban revolution, Castro’s government cashed the first check but left the remaining checks un-cashed. Since these checks were made out to the ‘Treasurer General of the Republic’, a position that ceased to exist after the revolution, they are technically invalid.
The U.S. has maintained that the cashing of the first check indicates acceptance of the lease conditions. However, at the time of the new treaty, the U.S. sent a fleet of warships to Cuba to strengthen its position. Thus, a counter argument is that the lease conditions were imposed on Cuba under duress and are rendered void under modern international law.
The U.S. has used the argument of Cuban sovereignty over Guantánamo when denying basic guarantees of the U.S. Constitution to the detainees at that facility by indicating that federal jurisdiction doesn’t apply to them. If the Cuban government indeed has sovereignty over Guantánamo, then its claims over the area are legally binding and the U.S. is obligated to return Guantánamo to Cuba.
Since 1959, the Cuban government has informed the U.S. government that it wants to terminate the lease on Guantánamo. The U.S. has consistently refused this request on the grounds that it requires agreement by both parties.
Alfred-Maurice de Zayas, an American lawyer and professor of international law at the Geneva School of Diplomacy and International Relations, has noted that article 52 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties states, “A treaty is void if its conclusion has been procured by the threat or use of force in violation of the principles of international law embodied in the Charter of the United Nations.”
He also believes that the conditions under which the treaty was imposed on the Cuban National Assembly, particularly as a pre-condition to limited Cuban independence, left Cuba no other choice than to yield to pressure.
A treaty can also be void by virtue of material breach of its provisions, as indicated in article 60 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties. According to the original terms of the lease agreement, the Guantánamo Bay territory could only be used for coaling and naval purposes.
However, the use of the Guantánamo facility as an internment camp for Haitian and Cuban refugees — or, even more ominously, as a demonstrated torture center by the U.S. military — indicates a significant breach of that agreement, fully justifying its immediate termination.
President Jimmy Carter courageously returned the Panama Canal to the Panamanians, thus setting an important precedent in international relations. President Carter did what was legally right, and lifted U.S. prestige not only among Panamanians but throughout the hemisphere.
It can be said that the proposal of returning Guantánamo to Cuba is hopelessly naïve, since it would give an unnecessary boost to the Castro brothers. However, this would be balanced by a wave of goodwill and respect towards the U.S. throughout Latin America. In addition, returning Guantánamo to Cuba will allow the U.S. to close one of the most tragic chapters of its legal and moral history, and it will compensate Cubans for the miseries they have had to endure due to the U.S. embargo and the stubbornness of the Cuban leaders.
Dr. Cesar Chelala is a co-winner of an Overseas Press Club of America award.
- Guantanamo exposes reality of US fascism (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Activists join Guantanamo hunger strike in week of fast (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Guantanamo Bay has become money pit – former prison official (theinternetpost.net)
They are essentially dead men who just happen to breathe. That is the grim assessment of the legal representative for the inmates in the American concentration camp, otherwise known as Guantanamo Bay.
More than 11 years after this penal colony was opened on the American-occupied territory of Cuba, there remain some 166 prisoners who live in a nightmarish world of indefinite detention.
Hundreds of others have been ground through the machine, spewed out like human waste. Denial of human freedom is torture; denial of any sense of when that torture ends adds a whole new barbarous dimension of cruelty.
American vanity likes to indulge in berating other countries for human rights violations: Russia, China, North Korea and Iran are paraded in the American media as pariah states, accused of failing international legal standards. In the past, the Soviet Union and its system of gulags was a particular favourite feature for Americans to contrast their supposed freedoms. How the ‘high and mighty’ self-proclaimed moral titans now stand exposed as hypocrites, charlatans and low-life perverts.
Thanks to the suffering of prisoners at Guantanamo, the world is seeing some shocking home truths about the real nature of American government and its formerly grandiose pretensions. Without Guantanamo, the world may have been duped a little longer by the American art of deception. But not anymore. The American style of dictatorship has everything that the old Soviet system had, but with an added insidious trait – the American delusion of exceptionalism.
Think about it. In Guantanamo, they have been rendered from all over the world by their captors like so many wild animals, physically and mentally tortured, humiliated and defiled. Most of them are Muslim, coming from Africa, the Middle East and Asia, where the US has been waging its permanent charade ‘War on Terror’ since 2001.
Such is the cruel vindictiveness of their captor country that these men’s only freedom – to read their holy Korans in the solitude of their cells – has been denied to them. More. Their sacred beliefs have been stomped on. Not only have their captors incarcerated their bodies; their tormentors want to hunt down their victims’ inner-most thoughts. This is taking human barbarity to scientific levels of depravity where the human spirit is sought out to be murdered.
Ninety percent of the Guantanamo hostages – a more appropriate description than ‘inmate’ – have never been charged with any offence. They are being held merely on the basis of suspicion by an American government that has lost all credibility and moral bearing in the eyes of the world.
For nearly 50 days now, 26 of the men at Guantanamo have been on a hunger strike. It is the only freedom left to these men. To refuse the most basic means of subsistence. That length of time without food is pushing the human body into a fatal condition. The muscles have been eaten away now by the body’s own metabolism to survive against deprivation; at this stage, the last vital organ of the brain becomes internally digested.
‘These men have figured out that probably the only way for them to go home – cleared or not – is in a wooden box,’ said their American-military appointed defence lawyer, Lt Col Barry Wingard, in a recent interview with Russia Today.
Wingard, who has been granted only limited access to consult with the prisoners said that he was shocked by the ‘animal cage’ conditions of the men when he last saw them three weeks ago. ‘They will never get a trial based upon the evidence that is against them,’ adds Wingard.
Let’s recap. Hundreds of men – in all probability innocent of suspected wrongdoing – are held for up to 11 years without charge, tortured and denied proper legal support – all perpetrated by the government of the US that proclaims to be the world’s standard bearer of democratic and human rights and international law. This is the same government that has overseen the invasion and illegal occupation of Afghanistan and Iraq, murdering millions of innocents, in the name of establishing democracy and international law.
But don’t confuse. Guantanamo is not a vile contradiction of America’s lofty claims. It is in fact a microcosm of the reality of how truly barbaric the American government has become.
Five years ago, when Barack Obama was running for the US presidency, the closure of Guantanamo was a central promise. To the credit of the American people, they voted him into the White House in order to tear down this abomination of human rights and international law and all the associated torture that it represented under Bush and the neocons.
Into his second administration, Obama has reiterated that Guantanamo is here to stay. How is that for a brazen betrayal and snub to democratic demand of the people? Appropriately, Obama has outdone Bush, Cheney, Rumsfeld and Co. The imperialist permanent war on the world is being stepped up and expanded to target Syria, Iran, China and Russia and whomever else dares to stand in the way of American hegemony. Obama’s wielding of secretive executive powers to execute any one, any time, any place in the world exceeds the fantasies of the Bush neocons.
The abomination that is Guantanamo is therefore an important moment of truth as to how far America has gone down the road to all-out fascism.
Ironically, it is men who have been deprived of everything even to the point of death who are exposing this powerful truth.
- Activists join Guantanamo hunger strike in week of fast (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Human rights watchdogs turn blind eye on Gitmo hunger strikers (alethonews.wordpress.com)
In a gesture of solidarity with Guantanamo Bay prisoners, who are continuing their month-long hunger strike, activists across the world have launched a week-long fast. The campaign will also include protest rallies and vigils.
The action, organized by the Guantanamo prisoners support group Witness Against Torture (WAT), began on Sunday and is to last through March 30. Some activists plan to continue fasting every Friday until the prison is closed, the group says.
The fast will be accompanied by public gatherings to protest against the existence of Guantanamo prison and the condition of people held there.
“We will gather for action in New York City, Chicago, Los Angeles, and other cities domestically and internationally next week to denounce the barbaric practice of torture and indefinite detention and to demand justice for the men at Guantanamo,” WAT says.
The activists also released a list of 166 names of Gitmo detainees, calling on supporters to flood the prison with letters of solidarity and remind the management “that the world has not forgotten the hunger strikers.”
Human rights advocate Andy Worthington believes demonstrations like the recent one are crucial for changing the situation in Guantanamo, stating inactivity “would be a victory” for those whose aim is to keep the prison open.
“Those of us working to close Guantanamo are up against powerful forces of indifference or hostility to our cause, despite the obvious justice of our position. People should not – must not – be put off by this indifference or hostility,” Andy Worthington told RT.
WAT organized similar fasts of solidarity annually since 2010. The group itself was formed back in 2005 and has since been trying to make the US government close the notorious prison through vigils, marches, nonviolent direct action and other measures.
Lawyers of the detainees say more than a hundred of Guantanamo prisoners have been on a hunger strike since early February, with some putting their health at considerable risk. The protest was reportedly caused by mistreatment on the part of the guards, including searches, confiscation of personal items and desecration of Korans.
Guantanamo Bay management has been downplaying the scale of the protest, saying that it considers only a handful of detainees to be genuine hunger strikers.
- Human rights watchdogs turn blind eye on Gitmo hunger strikers (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Despite the prisoners’ hunger strike at Guantanamo Bay being acknowledged by the US military, there has so far been little reaction from the international humanitarian organizations to the action, which enters its 42nd day on Tuesday.
The United Nations has yet to acknowledge or comment upon the Gitmo hunger strike. RT has reached out to UN human rights bodies in Geneva and officials have promised to respond to the inquiry with a comment by Tuesday afternoon.
The only international organization to respond to what’s going on in Guantanamo is the Red Cross, which visited the island prison from February 18 to 23. It acknowledged that a hunger strike was really taking place, but so far all the organization has done is release a statement saying that “The ICRC believes past and current tensions at Guantanamo to be the direct result of the uncertainty faced by detainees.”
Military censorship makes it quite difficult to access any information about Gitmo prisoners. It was the attorneys for the detainees that first expressed urgency and grave concern over the life-threatening mass hunger strike that reportedly started in the Guantanamo Bay detention facility on February 6.
According to the Center for Constitutional Rights 130 prisoners went on a hunger strike to protest the alleged confiscation of personal items such as photos and mail and the alleged sacrilegious handling of their Korans.
Prison spokesman Navy Capt. Robert Durand, however, acknowledged only 21 inmates to be on hunger strike. He also denied all allegations of prisoners being mistreated.
Even if not for mistreatment and abuse, prisoners could have started the strike just to draw attention to their being kept in Guantanamo, with the US refusing to repatriate them, despite some being cleared for release.
“There are 166 people at Guantanamo. Of those there are probably 20 guys who are bad guys… like Khalid Sheikh Mohammed. The other people… more than half of them – 86 of them have been cleared at least for three years and some during the Bush administration – cleared as innocent people. And they are still there and they are frustrated,” says Thomas Wilner, a lawyer, who used to represent some of the Guantanamo detainees in court.
According to Durand, none of the inmates on hunger strike is in immediate health danger.
Lawyers for the prisoners believe otherwise. They have reported some of their clients had weight loss of up to or more than 20 pounds (8kg) and have been hospitalized. Medical experts say that by day 45, hunger strikers can experience potential blindness and partial hearing loss.
The Center for Constitutional Rights and habeas counsel have sent a letter to US Defense Secretary, Chuck Hagel, urging him “to address this growing crisis at Guantánamo before another man dies at the prison, this time under his watch. The hunger strike should be a wake-up call for the Obama Administration, which cannot continue to ignore the human cost of Guantánamo and put off closing the prison any longer.”
Meanwhile, JTF-GTMO announced that flights to the island prison from South Florida will be terminated on April 5. The step is seen by the prisoners’ attorneys as an attempt by the Defense Department to limit access to their clients.
Rather than scrap it as un-American and authoritarian, Godfather Obama has institutionalized the practice of “unlawful indefinite detention” he inherited from his predecessor in the White House.
That’s the view of Anthony D. Romero, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), one of the nation’s foremost authorities on the rule of law. Romero says that instead of closing down the Guantanamo operation and resolving its legal cases in the Federal courts, Obama has done the opposite and, in fact, revived “the illegitimate Guantanamo military commissions.” Romero doesn’t refer to Obama as “Godfather,” of course. Maybe because he doesn’t have to.
Like a true godfather, though, the man in the White House doesn’t want to hear about what went down during those illegal detentions. He refuses to have his Justice Department consigliere investigate the illegal kidnappings and torture by the CIA GoodFellas at any of their secret sites. McClatchy News Service reports this includes dungeons in Poland, Thailand, Romania, and Lithuania.
While Poland’s President Bronislaw Komorowski wants a “thorough investigation” of what went on at a CIA-run villa about 100 miles north of Warsaw, McClatchy’s Roy Gutman reports, “The U.S. government has stonewalled all known requests for assistance.”
Likely it’s concealing gross, cowardly, and obscene tortures of the most revolting nature, such as threatening prisoners with murder using power drills, as well as waterboarding them. And that’s just what’s known. Poland has 20 books of as yet unreleased testimony.
“If former officials are brought to trial, or if the classified files in the (Polish) prosecutors’ offices are made public, the result will be revelations about an American anti-terrorism operation whose details U.S. officials are fighting to keep secret,” Gutman writes.
Keep in mind that the prisoners in such secret dungeons are kidnapped off the streets in the first place, without the benefit of legal proceedings, and held for years. Writing of Guantanamo in the Miami Herald of October 3, 2011, Joseph Margulies, perhaps the most prominent defense lawyer who has served there, says prisoners “may never hold their children or say goodbye to a dying mother. Their fate is the four walls of a prison cell… ”
Even some men cleared for transfer by the Bush and Obama regimes “remain in custody,” Margulies writes—despite Obama’s pledge to shut Guantanamo. But there’s worse, much worse.
“Murder” is the term for killing without legal proceedings or a state of war. Protests stream in regularly from Pakistani officials over the U.S. killing of civilians by drone attacks, yet the godfather continues to sign off on them. The protests make a sham of Obama’s claim the drone attacks are the outcome of some careful screening process.
At minimum you would think a president would shut down any criminal cell he found operating out of the coils of the federal establishment. Yet, after George W. Bush expanded the CIA into a veritable federalized Ku Klux Klan, Obama refuses to dismantle it or prosecute its officials.
The Obama crime syndicate is operating on many fronts—it prosecutes whistle-blowers, it expands germ warfare, it threatens nuclear war against UN members, it lavishes billions on research into new ways of killing and disabling people, and, not least, it makes criminal wars. In short, it does everything you’d expect a godfather to do. All that’s left is for the world to kiss his ring.
Sherwood Ross can be contacted at email@example.com
- Poland peels back layers on secret CIA prison for suspected terrorists (mcclatchydc.com)
- The Obama GITMO myth (salon.com)
Despite President Obama’s pledge to end torture, the brutalization of Muslim prisoners at Guantanamo prison continues under his regime.
Guantanamo is where a thug squad called the Immediate Reaction Force (IRF) tortures inmates while pointing their required video cameras at the floor to hide their beatings.
In illegal and cowardly assaults on tied-up inmates that violate the Geneva Conventions, five or more Pentagon IRF MP’s will spray Mace in a prisoner’s face and then gang-beat him. The MP’s are known to break bones, gouge eyes, squeeze testicles, inject disease, force the prisoner’s head into a toilet or bang it on a concrete floor, smear the prisoner with feces, douse him with noxious chemicals, urinate on him and even sodomize him. A prisoner may also be virtually buried alive in total darkness underground for as long as three weeks, during which he is denied adequate food and sleep. Prisoners have also been hog-tied in painful positions for hours on end. In short, Guantanamo’s prisoners have suffered tortures far worse than France’s notorious Devil’s Island.
The above facts about Guantanamo are according to distinguished investigative reporter Jeremy Scahill in an article published for “World View News Service.” He quotes Michael Ratner, president of the Center For Constitutional Rights (CCR) as saying: “They (the IRF) are the Black Shirts of Guantanamo. IRFs can’t be separated from torture. They are part of the brutalization of humans treated as less than human.” Adds Scott Horton, a leading expert on the U.S. military and constitutional law, “They (the IRF) were trained to brutally punish prisoners in a brief period of time, and ridiculous pretexts were taken to justify” the beatings. (One prisoner said he was beaten for feeding crumbs to some lizards.)
“I have seen detainees suffer serious injuries as a result of being IRF’ed,” said David Hicks, an Australian citizen held at Guantanamo. “I have seen detainees IRF’ed while they were praying or by refusing medication.”
In his book, “An Innocent Man in Guantanamo,” (Palgrave/macmillan), Murat Kurnaz, held there for five years even though it was clear to U.S. authorities he was innocent, writes, “Blows from the IRF team were the basic form of punishment at Camp X-Ray… beating us and then chaining our hands and feet, connecting those chains with a third one. You couldn’t move your arms, they were pressed to your body. Then they’d leave you sitting there like that and take away your blanket and the thin mattress. It could take days before they’d unshackle you… ” Perhaps the ultimate in sadism, Kurnaz recalls, “fathers had to watch as their sons were beaten, and vice versa.”
Kurnaz writes that when General Geoffrey Miller took over Guantanamo in 2003 the plight of the prisoners “dramatically worsened.” “The interrogations got more brutal, more frequent, and longer. The first order General Miller issued was to commence Operation Sandman, which meant we were moved to new cells every one or two hours. The general’s goal was to completely deprive us of sleep, and he achieved it.” Kurnaz said that if he dozed off an IRF guard would punch him in the face.
The CCR has called upon the Obama regime to immediately end the use of IRF teams at Guantanamo. One Guantanamo defense lawyer said that after Obama took office his clients reported “a ramping up in abuse.” Horton says, “detainees should be entitled to compensation for injuries they suffered,” reports Scahill.
“As Commander in Chief of United States Armed Forces under the terms of the United States Constitution, President Obama has an absolute obligation to terminate torture and war crimes committed by the IRFs on Gitmo,” says Francis Boyle, professor of international law at the University of Illinois, Champaign. “Failure to do so renders him liable for these international crimes under international criminal law, U.S. domestic criminal law, and U.S. Army Field Manual 27-10 on the Law of Land Warfare under the doctrine of Command Responsibility. The best way to do this would be to terminate the IRFs on Gitmo.” Boyle is author of “Tackling America’s Toughest Questions” (Clarity).
Scahill says that while Barack Obama, almost immediately upon taking office, issued an executive order saying he was going to close down Guantanamo within a year and that he was going to respect the Geneva Convention while his administration reviewed Guantanamo, the (IRF) force under Obama has continued to torture prisoners.
Sherwood Ross formerly worked as a reporter and columnist for major dailies and wire services. He currently heads a Miami, Florida-based public relations firm for worthy causes. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A baseball-esk ID card, one man and an army of drones now determine the fate of a 17 year old girl in Yemen. As the moral scale on determinations to label terrorists and to legitimate counter-terrorism tilts away from the Allegiance’s pledge to “liberty and justice for all”, September 11th, 2001 remains a current issue.
On the evening of September 10 2001 I was welcomed home by a voicemail from my best friend Zoe Falkenberg. She proudly told me that she had ridden in a limo to the airport, I bet it was one of those normal airport shuttles misleading called limos. Zoe and I were two of an inseparable trio, friends who had fought and loved as sisters since the early months of our lives, when we began sharing a nanny. Zoe called from the airport; she was leaving the next morning for Australia with her little sister Dana, her dad Charlie Falkenberg, and her mom Leslie Whittington. Mama Les was taking her sabbatical at a university there.
September 11, 2001 was a sunny Tuesday, picturesque clouds spread beautifully across a splendidly blue sky. I was an 8 year old in Mrs. Kelly’s 4th grade class at University Park Elementary School in University Park, MD. An administrator announced over the PA system that there would be an early dismissal, one thirty I think. There was a funny atmosphere, I think there was a movie playing in our classroom, I was doing something for the teacher with colored computer paper. Not the kind with bright colors, the sad kind that comes in creepy green and peculiar purple. A lot of parents were picking their kids up early, mine didn’t. After we were officially dismissed, my dad came to pick up a neighbor and me, her dad was still teaching. My dad had a funny look on his face, a strained smile. After arriving at my home, my neighbor and I began playing beanie babies in my top bunk. At some point I must have speculated about the peculiarity of the day because my neighbor told me she had heard something about planes crashing in the sky. The story line of our beanie baby game included planes crashing in the sky. When my mom got home she talked to my dad, and then laid in an unusual way on the hammock in our back yard, I was watching through my window.
Once my neighbor’s parents picked her up I went down to join my family. I sat down on the green and white striped self-standing hammock. My parents were standing in front of me,my older brother was nearby. I was cheery, after all I had gotten out of school early then spent an afternoon playing with a friend. Then my parents told me that Zoe and her family were gone forever. My parents must have said that their plane crashed too, but I only remember hearing that my Zoe F and her family were gone forever.
In the years following the attacks, the Falkenbergs have never been far from my mind, but I thought of the people themselves, not of the attack as a whole. And then in May of last year, US troops killed Osama Bin Laden. While my facebook newsfeed roared with patriotic statuses, I could not understand why I was not overwhelmed with pride in my country’s recent feat. I found myself reading Osama Bin Laden’s obituary in the New York Times, trying to rationalize the experiences that lead him to project so much trauma into my own life. Not long after, the faces of Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, Walid bin Attash, Ramzi bin al Shibh, Ali Abdul Aziz Ali, and Mustafa Ahmed Adam al Hawsawi appeared on the public television screens. The broadcast was to announce that the prime 9/11/01 suspects were to be tried in military tribunals at Guantánamo Bay. I felt as if I were eight years old again.
It pains me to know that the US government is using the deaths of the Falkenbergs, and thousands of other innocents, to justify atrocious human rights violations. Anthropological theory can help to explain how human rights violations against the 9/11/01 suspects, including torture, and refusal of due process, inherently violate the rights of both those victims murdered and those still living. My specific usage of victim defines persons whose lives were profoundly affected by the attacks, mainly those involved in the attacks and their loved ones. The methods used for interrogation of the 9/11/01 suspects, and the decision to try the suspects in military commissions instead of criminal courts violate the rights of the victims both dead and alive and forces victims into accomplices in the state’s violence.
During their detention, Guantánamo prisoners including the 9/11/01 suspects have been subjected to violations against their basic human rights, including protection from torture. Interrogators use knowledge of Islamic religious beliefs and values to embarrass and mutilate the detainees’ spiritual rights. These coercion tactics include female interrogators rubbing red dye that signifies menstrual blood on prisoners to make them dirty, preventing the men’s ability to pray. Waterboarding is another form of torture practiced at Guantánamo, entailing drowning simulation to produce a panic response in the victim. Mohammed is one of three prisoners who former CIA director General Michael Hayden has publicly recognized as having been subjected to the now explicitly illegal, waterboarding .
The alleged use of these torture tactics is to discover whether or not the suspects were involved in the 9/11/01 attacks, to learn more about the attacks, and to prevent future acts of terror, all while seeking justice for the victims. However, in April of 2011 Attorney General Eric Holder stated that the justice department had developed a strong case to seek the death penalty for the five suspects up for trial Evidence retrieved from torture can be used in military commissions; coerced evidence is not legitimate in criminal courts. Thus, because Holder stated that the plaintiff legal team was prepared to prosecute Mohammed, bin Attash, bin al Shibh, Abdul Aziz Ali, and al Hawsawi in federal courts, we can assume that there is a sufficient amount of evidence for their persecution that was not obtained through torture. If there is sufficient legitimate evidence to prosecute the suspects then the Guantánamo torture is unnecessary for a successful judicial trial, making the human rights abuses against these men superfluous for conventional justice.
In addition to violating the rights of the attack suspects, the human rights abuses against the suspects inherently violate the rights of the 9/11/01 victims to dignity postmortem. One specific atrocity was committed against Mohammad al-Quahtani, the sixth 9/11/01 suspect who has been denied trial, and will instead be held indefinitely at Guantánamo. The interrogator taped a picture of a 9/11/01 victim to his pants. The use of this image violates the rights of the dead victims to peace postmortem. But more than that, by using a victim’s image as a tool to harm the suspects, interrogators force the victims’ bodies into tools of aggression.
By invoking the deaths and images of 9/11/01 victims to abuse the suspects, the military interrogators reverse the victim/perpetrator roles. The dead do not have agency, but by using the deaths of thousands of innocents to justify these human rights abuses, the state forces the victims into the role of accomplice for the state’s violence against Mohammed, bin Attash, bin al Shibh, Abdul Aziz Ali, al Hawsawi, and al-Quahtani. The state mutilates the dead victims’ bodies into tools of aggression, forcing the victims into the guise of perpetrator, and allowing the attack suspects to become victims. Therefore by torturing the 9/11/01 suspects in the name of justice for those killed on September 11th 2001, the state distorts the victims’ positions as innocents murdered on a tragic day, into allies for terrorism.
This violation of the rights of the victims murdered on 9/11/01 has also yielded a violation of the rights of those victims still alive. The violation of dead victim’s rights leaves one with the question: who is the aggressor, the men whose motivations for and true involvement in the terrorist attacks remain unknown, or the state that consciously links victimized innocents with torture? This confusion is a problem for the legitimacy of the state because, while the presence of the state remains guaranteed, the state’s threat mars its position as a place of justice. The threat of the state prevents living victims from understanding the state as a space for justice. And if we cannot find justice within the bounds of our state, then what can we hope for in a military tribunal at Guantánamo, a place defined by its occupation as outside the binds of law?
Military commissions contain provisions that deny fair trials, and silence defendants, and in doing so, violate their human rights. For example, the allowance of evidence coerced during cruel and inhumane conditions denies the suspects of their right to due process. Also, both the judge and the jury are military appointed, thus an unbiased hearing is not possible, denying the suspects of even a chance of their right to due process. In addition, military commissions bar civilians and press from large portions of the trials. By excluding civilians and press from the trials, the military commissions prevent a witness to controversial trial proceedings. The exclusion of civilians from certain trial proceedings also prevents living victims from learning information about the terror attacks that have so much influenced their lives, an important part of healing. Moreover, at least bin al Shibh and al Hawsawi have submitted requests to represent themselves, however their appointed military council have thus far prevented this occurrence on the grounds of mental incompetency. By denying the 9/11/01 suspects the opportunity to speak on their own behalf, the military tribunals refuse to allow a trial in which any sort of justice is possible. The military commissions are denying justice in their silencing of the suspects because the commissions abjure the defendants of an opportunity to fight for themselves and for their own lives, in essence denying the suspects of their right to life. Some might say that these state-labeled terrorists do not deserve the chance to defend their own life. Nevertheless, denying the 9/11/01 suspects a criminal court trial violates both the rights of the suspects to a fair trial and of the living victims to the information that military commissions refuse.
The images and the information that the government has released of and about Mohammed, bin Attash, bin al Shibh, Abdul Aziz Ali, and al Hawsawi has forced the general public to other these men. The images of the suspects are their Guantánamo mug shots, taken after years of torture. The result is that the representation of the 9/11/01 suspects broadcast to the public is one of men who the public cannot relate too, and so instead we distance ourselves from these men and other them into the unquestionable group of 9/11 terrorists.
Othering prevents true justice because it refuses the opportunity to question the state’s actions and in doing so forces living victims into accomplices in the state’s violence. By denying the 9/11/01 victims the opportunity to gain information about each of these men’s involvement in the attacks, through both military and suspect testimonies, military commissions abjure living victims of the opportunity to gain the information about both the attacks and the 9/11/01 suspects that is necessary to individualize the suspects and their crimes. While Mohammed, bin Attash, bin al Shibh, Abdul Aziz Ali, and al Hawsawi remain abstractly as the 9/11 terror suspects, we do not feel an obligation to recognize their individual rights, therefore we do not question the way in which the state treats them. The denial of information forces silence and in doing so impels us to reflect the position that silence assumes. One of accompaniment with the government as it commits human rights violations in the name of our dead. Thus, not only does the denial of transparency inherent in military commissions violate the rights of the 9/11/01 suspects, this abjuration also refuses living victims of their right to information, and in doing so forces us into the role of accomplice to the government’s human rights violations.
Therefore, in violating the rights of Mohammed, bin Attash, bin al Shibh, Abdul Aziz Ali, and al Hawsawi, the state also violates the rights of 9/11/01 victims both living and dead. The state forces dead victims into accomplice roles in violence. The state withholds information from living victims, causing their othering of the suspects and subsequent position of silence regarding the suspects’ human rights, ultimately forcing living victims to be complicit in the state’s human rights violations. The National Defense Authorization Act gives the president the discretionary power to order military detention of suspected terrorists. Obama signed the NDAA into law on New Years Eve of 2011. This law allows us all to be arbitrarily declared as terrorist suspects. We can no longer allow our government to determine the legacy of September 11th 2001.
Kathryn Fenster is originally from Prince Georges County, MD. She is an anthropology major at Grinnell College, Grinnell Iowa. She can be reached at email@example.com.
- Khalid Sheikh Mohammed: former military prosecutor denounces trial (guardian.co.uk)
- No Justice for 9/11 Victims Found Here (truth11.com)
The trial of five alleged al-Qaeda members accused of involvement in the September 11, 2001 attacks in the US has descended into farce after they refused to respond to questions in protest at their mistreatment during detention.
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, the alleged mastermind of the 2001 attack on the World Trade Center towers in New York, and his four co-defendants appeared on Saturday before a US military tribunal at the Guantanamo Bay US naval base in Cuba.
But the arraignment failed to go smoothly after the defendants refused to answer the judge’s questions in protest at what their civilian lawyers described as their deep concerns about the fairness of the proceeding and the mistreatment of the defendants by their prison guards. The lawyers also said they were only allowed limited access to their clients.
Cheryl Borman, a civilian attorney for Walid bin Attash, told the court that the treatment of her client at Guantanamo had interfered with his ability to participate in the proceedings. “These men have been mistreated,” she said.
Attash was transferred to the courtroom while being tied to his chair.
Ramzi Binalshibh, another suspect, eventually attempted to address the court. When told by the judge he could speak later, he replied, “Maybe you’re not going to see us anymore. Maybe they kill me and say I committed suicide.”
Khalid Sheikh Mohammed, who is of Pakistani origin but was born in Kuwait, was arrested in Pakistan in 2003 and transferred to the Guantanamo base in Cuba in 2006.
The defendants, who face charges of terrorism, hijacking, conspiracy, and murder, were held for more than three years in secret CIA prisons before being transferred to the Guantanamo detention facility in 2006.
Attempts to try the suspects in a US civilian court in 2009 stopped due to Congressional opposition. According to new regulations for the trial of the five suspects, confessions that have been made under torture cannot be used in court.
This is while all five have said they were tortured during detention. The CIA has admitted that Mohammed alone was waterboarded 183 times.
Defense lawyers say the trial lacks legitimacy because of restricted access to their clients, while US rights groups have also questioned the fairness of the proceedings.
The lawyers have argued that the suspects were subjected to various forms of torture and held without a chance to examine the evidence against them.