REMEMBER THE GUANTANAMO 660
You spend your days in a wire-mesh cell thats eight feet long and six feet eight inches wide--about the size of a walk-in closet--yet youve never been convicted of a crime. Youve never had a hearing, or stood before a judge, or been in a courtroom of any kind--yet here you are. Your toilet is a hole in the ground in your cell. Your guards keep the lights on 24 hours a day, and there is no air-conditioning, even in the summer heat of this tropical place. You sweat profusely and sleep fitfully under the lights. For exercise, you get to trudge up and down a narrow caged concrete slab in your shackles for 30 minutes three times a week. Youve been here for almost two years now, and in that time you havent seen or spoken to a single member of your family or talked with a lawyer. You are not allowed news from the outside world; you knew nothing about the war in Iraq, for instance, until your guards told you the U.S. had won.
Periodically you are pulled from your cell and interrogated. If you tell the questioners what they want to know--which is much more than your name and serial number--you might get a stick of chewing gum or the privilege of playing checkers with another inmate. Last week, one of your fellow prisoners tried to hang himself; at least twenty other inmates have tried to commit suicide that you know of. Three of your fellow prisoners are children under the age of 16. One was 13 years old when he was brought here.
No one tells you how long you will be here, and thats the real horror. If you knew the truth, you too might try to hang yourself, for the truth is this: You might be here forever.
This is life for most of the 660 prisoners being held by the United States at Guantanamo Bay Naval Base in Cuba. Most of the prisoners were captured in Afghanistan in the war against the Taliban after the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. The Bush administration has declared these prisoners unlawful combatants, claiming that they were not real soldiers and are therefore not protected by the Geneva Convention protocols protecting ordinary prisoners of war. Since the prisoners are being held at Guantanamo, says the Bush administration, they also have no protections under the U.S. judicial system, which apply only to those held on U.S. territory. The Bush administration says it will try the prisoners whenever it feels like doing so (if it tries them at all) in military courts whose judges will be named by the Bush Pentagon. If they are tried, the prisoners will be represented by military counsel also chosen by the Bush Pentagon. They will have no right of appeal to any court not determined by the White House. Some of them could be sentenced to die.
For these 660 prisoners, George W. Bush has made himself God. He has, for all practical purposes, given himself the right to imprison, judge and execute whomever he wishes, without independent judicial review and in defiance of international law, all in the name of his self-declared war on terrorism. Guantanamo is Bushs little self-created world, where law and human rights mean nothing, where Georges word is considered to come from the burning Bush.
On October 10, the International Red Cross, an organization which almost never speaks out publicly on political subjects, issued a press release condemning the U.S. for its treatment of the prisoners at Guantanamo. The main concern today after more than 18 months in captivity is that essentially the internees in Guantanamo have been placed beyond the law, said a Red Cross spokeswoman. They have no idea about their fate after 18 months. And they have no legal recourse.
Others have likewise taken up the cause of the Guantanamo 660. On October 9, nineteen former U.S. diplomats, including former assistant secretaries of state William Rogers and Alexander Watson, and former assistant secretary of defense Allen Holmes, filed a brief with the Supreme Court demanding that the court intervene to protect the rights of the prisoners at Guantanamo and to force the Bush administration to treat them according to accepted standards of U.S. and international law, either providing them with swift, fair and open trials or treating them as POWs according to the Geneva Conventions. Among those condemning the treatment of the prisoners at Guantanamo are three former U.S. POWs and a retired Navy judge advocate general, Rear Admiral Donald Guter. The POWs and the admiral point out that with its failure to provide due process or judicial review for the prisoners at Guantanamo, the Bush administration is encouraging other nations to treat prisoners the same way. My concern is fairly selfish, says Guter. If we dont preserve the rule of law, what happens when our own people are taken captive?
Other organizations, such as Human Rights Watch, have pointed out that in fact the Fourth Geneva Convention does apply even to those nontraditional soldiers the Bush administration calls unlawful combatants (a phrase which does not appear in the Geneva Conventions). Nearly all international legal organizations have declared that any of the detainees who fought as representatives of the Taliban must in fact be treated as POWs. Furthermore, say most legal observers, the notion that Guantanamo is not U.S.-controlled territory is at best disingenuous. The alternative is that the base belongs to the Cuban government, from which the U.S. leases the base. But the Bush administration denies Cuban sovereignty there. Acknowledging Guantanamo as Cubas would mean the detainees could then petition the Cuban government for treatment under its laws. In other words, Bush and friends are trying to have it both ways with respect to Guantanamo: its not Cubas if it means giving the prisoners rights under Cuban law, but its not ours if it means having to treat the prisoners there under U.S. judicial guidelines.
George Bush has declared the prisoners at Guantanamo the worst of the worst in the war on terrorism. How this determination was made in the heat of battle in Afghanistan is more than problematic. When a 13-year-old is declared the worst of the worst, one wonders if the phrase has any meaning at all, or if it just Bush abusing the language as he is wont to do. No doubt some of the Guantanamo 660 are members of Al Qaeda or other organizations that would do harm to the United States. But that doesnt mean the Bush administration can treat them any way it wishes. Even British Prime Minister Tony Blair, one of Bushs few buddies on the international scene, demanded last week that Bush give the Guantanamo detainees--especially those who are British citizens--a fair trial soon. Blair spoke out under pressure; the British public, like most of the rest of the free world, is outraged at what Bush is doing in Guantanamo.
Simply put, international law does not permit a nation to detain anyone indefinitely without charges or access to counsel. In its treatment of the Guantanamo 660, the United States is behaving like a rogue nation.
And apparently it plans to continue doing so. The U.S. is now building a new Camp Five to house the inmates at Guantanamo. According to The Miami Herald, Camp Five, like the rest of the Guantanamo prison expansion, is being built by Kellogg Brown & Root, which so far has been granted $69 million in government contracts without any competitive bidding. Kellogg Brown & Root is a subsidiary of Halliburton, Vice-President Dick Cheneys former company and a big contributor to Republican campaigns. Camp Five will be made of concrete, not wire mesh. When it is finished, it will have all the feel of a permanent place, like a tomb.