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Guantanamo Bay and shortsighted US foreign policy

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Submitted by George Callaghan…

Amidst America’s drone strikes, sanctions and threats to world peace we seem to have forgotten about Guantanamo. For near on 18 years people have been held without trial nor charge in this prison of dubious legality.

It is an ongoing scandal that so many people have been deprived of their liberty for so long. In 2001 the 9/11 attacks occurred. President George W Bush declared that the world had change. It was not the first time that 3 000 had been killed. Nor was it the last time! Any other event in which 3 000 people are killed does not change the world. Why did it this time?

The United States proclaimed its war on terror. All too often this meant a war on civil liberty. People were locked up without trial in the US in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Flights were grounded The US began a massive surveillance programme.

Waterboarding and other forms of severe mistreatment were authorized by President George W Bush. Waterboarding simulates drowning. It induces such a state of fear in a suspect that he or she will sing like a canary.

Many countries use torture or at least gravely mistreat prisoners. The United States merits a modicum of credit for its honesty in acknowledging what it has done to prisoners. The US Government sought to regulate and limit what was done to prisoners. However, one must ask if the US would accept others doing this to its people? What is US soldiers are captured by an enemy who does this? Would the US Government say that waterboarding Americans is entirely ethical and legal? I think not.

The United States invoked the article of the NATO charter that states that an attack on one NATO country is an attack on all. No other NATO country ever did this. Other NATO lands dutifully came to the aid of the United States. NATO countries dispatched troops to assist the United States in Afghanistan.

Some of the NATO soldiers who fought in Afghanistan were Turks. They were Muslim to a man. Several other Muslim countries dispatched soldiers to assist the USA. America’s ally in Afghanistan was the United Islamic Front (Northern Alliance). The United Islamic Front was not quite as extreme as the Taliban. Despite all of these many American politicians indulged in the most despicable anti-Muslim demagoguery.

The US was fighting against the Taliban. The Taliban ruled over 90% of Afghanistan. These medieval theocrats presided over a viciously oppressive regime. It was a dark night for any who valued liberty or women’s rights. The Taliban had been built up by America’s ally in the region: Pakistan. As the Taliban made against the legitimate Government of Afghanistan in the 1990s the Taliban had been armed, funded and trained by Pakistani intelligence (the ISI). The United States provided billions of dollars of military aid to Pakistan during this time. Only a ninny would believe that none of this money and none of these weapons were handed by the ISI to their ideological soulmates the Taliban. The Taliban was monstrous in many regards. However, even they must be accorded some praise. The effectively interdicted the heroin trade.

At best US policy was shortsighted. The United States created a Golem. Now the sky was full of chickens coming home to roost. In 2001 the US and her allies bested the Taliban in many engagements. Alleged Taliban and Al Qa’eda operatives fell into American hands. 80% of them were initially captured by America’s Afghan allies or indeed by the Pakistani security forces. Afghanistan and Pakistan are countries where kidnapping is rife. The United States offered a bounty of $5 000 for each prisoner. Can you perceive a possible flaw in that? The US had incentivized people abducting anyone saying he is in Al Qa’eda and selling him to credulous Americans. The United States did not insist on even the flimsiest evidence that this alleged terrorist really was in Al Qa’eda. It was just taking the word for it of the people who stood to profit by selling this luckless person. Afghanistan is divided into different linguistic groups as well as tribes and clans. The same goes for Pakistan. There are severe interethnic asperities and there are blood feuds for generations. For $5 000 would you be willing to kidnap a man from a clan that is your hereditary mortal enemy? Of course you would! Afghanistan is one of the poorest countries on the planet. $5 000 is a king’s ransom there especially in 2001 prices. Small wonder that so many Taliban fighters were captured. The Taliban tended to fight to the death because they expected to be tortured to death if the surrendered to their Afghan archenemies the United Islamic Front. The bounty system was open to abuse. But many US military personnel seemed to gullible to pick up on this.

The US did not want to call the people it captured ‘Prisoners of War’ since that would afford them some entitlements under the Geneva Convention. Note that the Geneva Convention is applicable not just in a declared war but also in a warlike situation. Was the Afghan Conflict not a war? The US had not declared war on a sovereign state as such. But the Taliban was a sovereign state by some definitions including having been afforded official recognition by a few other sovereign states. George W Bush repeatedly said that it was a war.

If the US did not wish to go down the POW route there was another option. The people it captured in Afghanistan could have been treated as suspects. They could have been charged with crimes. This too would have entitled the prisoners some rights.

Instead the US came up with a legal novelty. Those captured were designated ‘battlefield detainees’. The US wished to be free of any legal obligations towards these men and boys. It is important that some of the prisoners were minors. I do not just meant 17 I mean well below 18. At least 17 children were held in Guantanamo Bay Detention Camp.

It is staggering that the United States kidnapped children from the far side of the world and took them to Guantanamo Bay. Would the US accept its children being abducted by a foreign government and taken to the other side of the globe? Imagine if Iran did that to American children? Imagine the outrage and the moral indignation!

Why did the US Government choose to send the prisoners to Guantanamo Bay? The prisoners were not brought to the US proper because then the prisoners would have some rights. People in the United States – including foreigners – are supposed to be guaranteed some rights when arrested. Incidentally this was extraordinary rendition. There was no extradition process. Therefore, moving the prisoners to another country was surely unlawful.

The Bush administration did not wish to be bothered with constitutional niceties. So the prisoners were sent to Guantanamo Bay. We are told that Guantanamo Bay is not part of the US. Indeed, it is not. But for over 100 years for all intents and purposes it has been American. The US has run it like its own land. Cubans are not allowed there. The notion that constitutional rights are not applicable in Guantanamo Bay rests on a thing argument. The idea that as this is not US sovereign territory then it is permissible to deprive people of their entitlements rests on the de minimis argument of the land being technically the territory of Cuba. But Cuba does not accept that the US has any right to be there. You cannot have it both ways – both that the territory is Cuban and it is not. As Cuba does not agree to the American presence then America should leave. If on the other hand you say that Guantanamo Bay is American in all but formal designation than US constitutional rights must be accorded to the prisoners.

What was the evidence against those detained? In some cases they happened to be near a location where fighting took place. They were simply swept up. Some were in possession of firearms. Carrying a gun in Afghanistan was as normal as carrying a gun in Alabama. How about another country kidnapping people in the US simply because they carry firearms and taking these prisoners to another country?

The battlefield detainees were hooded and sometimes sedated.  Hooding suspects is highly controversial. The United Kingdom outlawed hooding suspects in 1972. Many American politicians castigated the UK for hooding suspects in 1972. Oddly no American politician I have heard of has ever criticized the US military for hooding people more than 47 years later. The suspects were flown to Guantanamo Bay. What was the legal basis for moving them to another jurisdiction?

If there was a prima facie case for charging these people with offences then they ought to have been charged under Afghan law. It was chiefly in Afghanistan in which any alleged crimes had occurred. The US recognized the United Islamic Front as the rightful government of the country. The United Islamic Front held the UN seat for Afghanistan. The Afghan Government could have tried the suspect.

The suspects were grossly abused. The United States legalized inhuman and degrading treatment. The US Marines who guarded the prisoners most of the time trained before the arrival of the prisoners. Some marines played the role of prisoners and others played the role of guards. Those playing ‘prisoner’ were in some cases beaten unconscious. That is what the US Marine Corps did to its own people when only practicising. Imagine what they did to the real prisoners. A leaked FBI memo spoke candidly of ‘torture’ techniques used at the camp.

America was one of the prime movers behind the Convention against Torture, Inhuman and Degrading Treatment (CAT). Arguably what was done does not constitute torture. However, it most assuredly satisfied the conditions to be classified as inhuman and degrading treatment. The treatment meted out to the suspects will have caused serious mental or physical suffering. Put yourself in the place of a detainee. Imagine yourself, stripped, dressed, bound hooded and drugged. Imagine waking up like that on a plane being flown to goodness knows where. You would have no idea what fate awaits you.

The CAT states that no exigency makes it ever acceptable to derogate from the CAT. There are no exceptions. The argument that the US ‘had’ to introduce water boarding has no merit. The US could declare that it is no longer a signatory to the CAT. That at least would have the virtue of honesty and consistency.

The prisoners were held incommunicado for months or longer. Some were finally allowed visits with legal counsel. They did not have client-attorney privilege. It was a monstrous abuse of US constitutional abuse.

Khalid Sheikh Mohammad was water boarded many times. Doing his once is very controversial but to do it many times is unconscionable.

A third of those water boarded were proven innocent. I do not mean that they were not proven guilty. I mean that it was established that they were certainly innocent. Dick Cheney said that he has no qualms of conscience about the horrific suffering inflicted on these people.

Many prisoners became so despondent that they attempted suicide. They tried to starve themselves to death. US military doctors force fed them. International medical organizations have ruled this to be totally unethical. Doctors in the Republic of Ireland and the UK have long ago determined that this is unacceptable and unprofessional. Any physician doing this in the British Isles would be struck off.

The United States held citizens of its allies at Guantanamo Bay. It was years before they were set free.

Washington DC argued that the detainees were terrorists. Prove it then! If you are so sure then put them on trial.

It was too dangerous we were told. Too dangerous not to spy. Too dangerous not to kidnap. Too dangerous not to waterboard. Too dangerous not to detain without trial. This is preposterous.

The US later put some suspects on trial. These civilians were tried by a US military tribunal. That is unfair.

The British suspects were sent back to the United Kingdom in 2004. As they stepped off the plane they were arrested and questioned for several hours. They were then released without charge. The US authorities had passed intelligence on these men to the British Police. However, the information obtained by the US had no forensic value under the British legal system. The suspects were questioned without the presence of lawyers and in many cases were severely mistreated in order to elicit statements. Evidentially such statements were nullities. They would not exist in the view of a British court.

The PATRIOT Act has since been passed. Warrantless wiretapping was introduced. The US has virtually unlimited spying abroad. It is a cynical misuse of the word patriot. It is as if to imply that anyone who does not vote for this highly contentious piece of legislation is anti-patriotic. It was a bid by the Republican Party to wrongfoot the Democrats. The Democrats were accused of being limped wristed on national security. In fact, those who voted against this bill were being firm on civil liberty.

If the United States really wished to reduce the incidence of violence within its frontiers after 9/11 there were many things that could have been done but were not. There were some commonsense measures that the US Congress would not pass. How about gun control. It has not been passed. As though terrorists do not use guns!  The United States could introduce compulsory ID cards as most countries have.

Police in the United States sometimes ask a person to show his or her driving licence. Not everyone possesses a driving licence. Moreover, a person is entitled to refuse to show a driving licence even if he or she has one.

They say ‘all that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun.’ Prevent that baddie from getting a gun in the first instance!

But let us follow the logic set by these gun nuts. All that stops a bad guy with a nuclear weapon is a good guy with a nuclear weapon. So allow all lands to develop nuclear arms.

Guantanamo Bay is situated at the extreme eastern tip of Cuba. It is known as Gitmo to many in the US military. When the United States seized the island from Spain the US decided that Guantanamo would be an advantageously sited a naval base. Washington DC granted independence of a sort to Cuba after a few years. However, this was with the proviso that Cuba would rent Guantanamo Bay to the United States in perpetuity. The US held the bay for a peppercorn rent. Further, the Cubans allowed the United States to use Guantanamo Bay with the stipulation that it be used as a naval base and only as a naval base and not for any other purpose. As we have seen Gitmo is being used for something quite unrelated to the purpose for which the Cubans originally agreed to.

In 1959 Fidel Castro overthrew the corrupt kleptocracy of Fulgencio Batista. Castro swore blind that he was not a communist. Indeed, at that stage he was not. However, US sanctions pushed him into the arms of the Soviet Union. After a few years Castro began to wonder why on earth Cuba’s archenemy possessed Cuba soil. He asked for restitution of Cuban sovereign territory. Unsurprisingly the US told him to go whistle.

There are plenty of Americans who are incensed by the shameful deprivation of liberty inflicted on the people in Guantanamo Bay. Numerous American jurists and military personnel have stated that the existence of this detention camp is a blot on America’s escutcheon. Every human rights organization you can name has rightly issued a denunciation of Guantanamo Bay. It gives lie to the notion that the US has a mission to spread liberty and human rights around the globe. The United States ought to lead by example.

Senior officials in the George W Bush administration acknowledge that torture was deployed by the US on the prisoners in Gitmo. Moreover, a US military officer Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson who served in the Bush White House said that the US Government knew that many of the people held in Guantanamo Bay were innocent as lambs. Yet these men were deprived of freedom simply for the sake of public relations.

For shock jocks, Islamophobes and war mongers it became a point of pride to support the detention of untried people at Gitmo. Rush Limbaugh, Sean Hannity, Steven Crowder, Ben Shapiro, Tucker Carlson, Laura Ingraham, Dinesh D’Souza, Ann Coulter and Bill O’Reilly all gushed about how splendid it was to abrogate the US Constitution in such an arrant fashion. It was a means of establishing one’s right wing credentials. This is astonishing from those who boast about the constitutional character of their movement. They seemed to feel it demonstrated machismo to approve of denying people their human rights. What is really tough is to stand up for liberty even when it is difficult to do so. Those who found the courage to insist that everyone has the right to a fair trial were denounced as cowards and traitors.

Sean Hannity is notorious as one of the most dishonest and risibly partisan people on American television. It would be wrong to call this crass polemicist a journalist. In 2010 he disgraced himself yet again by saying ‘I want the same rights as those terrorists in Guantanamo Bay’. This was cheered at a right wing rally. Almost as if the people held without trial had it better than Hannity. What rights did these people locked up in Guantanamo have that Hannity did not? The right to be kidnapped? The right to be tortured? The right not to have the right to fair trial? The right to be spied on? Hannity’s ravings were beyond moronic.

Barak Obama tried to resolve the situation. He wanted to have the detainees taken to the United States to put on trial. Obama deserves praise for his moral courage in seeking to end the deplorable circumstances in Guantanamo.

Paul Ryan led the charge against human rights. Ryan said that the kidnap victim must be deprived of civil liberty. He claimed that it would be too dangerous to bring a few hundred unarmed men bound in chains to the US and to be locked up in a maximum security prison. Democrats as well as Republicans voted for this.  It demonstrates the world beating cowardice of a large section of the American population. So much for it being the home of the brave. The US is the mightiest country in the world as it likes to boast. What sort of threat could these man be? The US suffers tens of thousands of violent deaths a year. These men are not going to make it any worse.

Ryan denied the detainees a trial. It is disgusting but unsurprising. The US Congress would not fund Obama’s plan. Ryan banged on about freedom. He extolls the US Constitution as he violated it. His stand against civil liberty and human rights was to appease the Islamophobes and securocrats.

Everyone has the right to a fair trial. That is ground zero for civil liberty. What is America for is not that? What is the Declaration of Independence all about? Is it not about a stand against arbitrary government? Whatever happened to the rule of law? Is there no presumption of innocence? Or are all Muslims to be considered guilty?

If the people in Guantanamo Bay are Prisoners of War then they would have more freedom of association. They would be allowed to send and receive letters. They would get visits from the Red Cross. At the end of the conflict they would be set free. The Afghan Conflict is ending. That would be a good excuse for the US to find a face- saving way out of this shameful story. Washington could simply say these men are POWs and release them. However, I doubt that the US will do this.

Donald Trump has signaled that he intends to keep people locked up without trial for all time. He has no truck with freedom or rights. It is no wonder that he kowtows to tyrants such as Kim Jong Un. Yet when Trump and those of his ilk are under investigation he throws the toys out of the pram. He suggests it is Nazi. The FBI lawfully and ethically executed search warrants on Michael Cohen. President Trump was apoplectic that law enforcement did its job. The hypocrisy and cant of this man is absolutely sickening.

People remain in Guantanamo Bay. It is a moral outrage. It exposes America’s claim to stand for liberty and human rights as a sick joke. It is an abomination that people should have been confined for so long without a trial. People seem to have forgotten about Gitmo. But the situation is not over. It is still ongoing.

Will the prisoners never have their rights respected?

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Daniel Christof

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