On a dark, dark day five years ago Thursday the Bush Regime locked up the first 20 hooded, shackled prisoners at Camp X Ray near Guantánamo Bay. Soon, there would be several hundred more. It was a cheeky move set on the shakiest of legalistic pillars. The men incarcerated there – several of them teenagers, one of them 10 years old – were said by U.S. officials not to be prisoners of war, but rather "unlawful enemy combatants," stateless unpersons unprotected by the strictures of the Geneva Conventions.
As if this didn’t twist common sense and logic and human decency far enough, Bush officials argued that because the U.S. Naval Base at Guantánamo is leased in perpetuity from Cuba (as a byproduct of American imperialism of another era), it isn’t really U.S. territory, and falls outside the reach of U.S. law. Never mind that the 1903 Cuban-American Treaty by which this spoil of war was obtained states that the Republic of Cuba consents that during the period of the occupation by the United States of said areas under the terms of this agreement the United States shall exercise complete jurisdiction and control over and within said areas ...
As has been learned little by little over the years as news trickled out from Guantánamo, prisoners were beaten, sexually humiliated, deprived of sleep, shackled for long periods in cramped positions, subjected to exceedingly loud music, forced to live under bright lights 24 hours a day, interrogated repeatedly under harsh conditions, waterboarded and otherwise cruelly mistreated.
The Red Cross, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the U.N. Committee Against Torture, the Center for Constitutional Rights and scores of ex-captives released from Guantánamo without charge after years of incarceration have a word for what happened there: torture.
And for what? According to The New York Times two-and-a-half years ago, U.S. Said to Overstate Value Of Guantánamo Detainees:
In interviews, dozens of high-level military, intelligence and law-enforcement officials in the United States, Europe and the Middle East said that contrary to the repeated assertions of senior administration officials, none of the detainees at the United States Naval Base at Guantánamo Bay ranked as leaders or senior operatives of Al Qaeda. They said only a relative handful -- some put the number at about a dozen, others more than two dozen -- were sworn Qaeda members or other militants able to elucidate the organization's inner workings.
While some Guantánamo intelligence has aided terrorism investigations, none of it has enabled intelligence or law-enforcement services to foil imminent attacks, the officials said.
As we have learned over the years, many of the captives at Guantánamo arrived there as a result of being kidnapped or turned over for bounty money or moved there from the secret prisons where they were previously held in Thailand or North Africa or Eastern Europe. Only a handful were actually captured on the battlefields of Afghanistan. None has ever been convicted of a crime. None has even been charged.
There was a brief moment last summer when it appeared that the Supreme Court’s decision in the Hamdan case would wedge a little justice into the lives of the Guantánamo captives. After first saying in the wake of the Court’s decision that those captives were not covered by the Geneva Conventions, the White House abruptly changed gears and said they would be.
But, despite years of deceit and manipulation and machinations by Dubyanocchio and his team, the Republican-controlled House and Senate, with the help of 44 Democrats, passed the Military Commissions Act last October. This farcical bit of legislation doesn’t allow captives the right of habeas corpus or a speedy trial or cross-examining witnesses. Evidence obtained by torture or less degrading but still inhuman means is allowed. Moreover, most of the captives at Guantánamo won’t even be subject to trial by these kangaroo commissions. They could remain in limbo for as long as the "war on terror" continues.
For some, those who committed suicide, including a teen-ager, the wait has already been too long. Others, as widely reported in foreign media, but all too rarely here at home, are on the edge.
As attorney G Brent Mickum writes in today’s Guardian:
After five years of torture, Bisher is slowly slipping into madness
False allegations from MI5 put my clients in Guantánamo Bay and the British government has failed them abysmally
Thursday is also the start of my clients' fifth year of captivity around the world. Bisher al-Rawi and Jamil el-Banna, both British residents, are prisoners because British intelligence tipped off the CIA that they were travelling from the UK to Gambia and falsely described them as Islamist terrorists. We know this because in a court proceeding last year the British government produced copies of telegrams sent by MI5 to the CIA. Although the names are redacted from the documents, we know that the CIA was the recipient because the judge in the case inadvertently noted that they had been sent to the CIA. In the telegrams, MI5 provided knowingly false information to induce my clients' arrest and subsequent rendition.
Bisher and Jamil remain prisoners because, until March of last year, Britain refused to demand their release. Then the foreign secretary made what appears to be a half-hearted request for the release of Bisher in the face of public exposure of the connections with MI5. Britain, however, still refuses to demand the release of Jamil and seven other British residents. None will ever be charged; there is no evidence in the record I have reviewed that would withstand the slightest scrutiny in any court. Moreover, the treatment of Bisher and Jamil has been so appalling, the Bush administration would never allow their story to be exposed to the world in open court. And, of course, some of that story directly implicates British officials.
And Ben Russell of The Independent writes:
Ten-year-old Anas el-Banna will walk to the door of Number 10 Downing Street this week to ask for an answer to the question he has been trying to have answered for four years: Why can't my Dad come home?
His father, Jamil, is one of eight British residents languishing among the almost 400 inmates at the American base at Guantanamo Bay, which opened five years ago to the day this Thursday - the day of Anas's protest.
Mr Banna, was taken to Guantanamo Bay four years ago after being seized in Gambia along with fellow detainee Bisher al-Rawi. He was accused of having a suspicious device in his luggage. It turned out to be a battery charger. No charges have been made.
Helped by its allies in North Africa and Asia and Europe, America still runs its very own gulag. We, the citizens of America, don’t know for certain where most captives in this secret archipelago of prisons are being held. Or their numbers. Or how many have "disappeared" permanently.
We cannot, however, plead ignorance about Guantánamo. Neither can our newly elected Democratic majorities. The House and Senate need to devote a few of their first hundred hours resolving to investigate and shut down this shameful violation of human rights and international law, and all similar prisons, known and unknown.
January 11 marks an international day of protest against the incarcerations at Guantánamo. You can find out more at this site. [Hat tip to Mae.]