October 23, 2006

Hotel California

MSNBC reported today that the Pentagon will bring only 70 of the 775 men that have been interred at Guantanamo Bay before a military court:
Out of roughly 775 detainees who have come to Guantanamo, former leaders of the Pentagon's Criminal Investigation Task Force said they were able to develop credible criminal cases against only about 100.

And some of those have been released. The investigators said that some criminal suspects against whom they had good evidence have been among the 340 detainees released, because they were citizens of Great Britain or other cooperating countries who made diplomatic deals with the United States.

Of the 435 who remain in the prison camps, the Pentagon says, another 110 have been labeled as ready to release, but the United States has not been able to find a country willing to take them under terms such as continued confinement or monitoring.

Of the remaining 325, how many will face trial?

At this point, “more than 70,” the Pentagon says.

Of those 70, only 10 have been certified by the president as al-Qaeda members or supporters eligible for trial. The trials, called military commissions, will allow the detainees some rights, such as advice of an attorney, but will allow evidence that wouldn't be permitted under the rules in U.S. criminal courts. They are expected to begin next year at the earliest.

That leaves about 250 men who are not scheduled for any kind of trial, who will not be released to another country, and who, it is likely, will never be free again. The recently enshrined Military Commissions Act places the United States under no obligation to provide any of these men, snatched by a foreign government and now imprisoned for years, with any kind of hearing or trial. In fact, some military insiders, well aware that these men will simply remain imprisoned with no hope for release, have in turn nicknamed Camp Delta "Hotel California" after the eponymous Eagles song which contains the lyrics "You can check out anytime you like, but you can never leave."

Under the impression that the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are, as Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld once put it, "the worst of the worst," most Americans have probably been losing little sleep over this situation, but as has proven the case repeatedly with statements from the Bush Adminsitration, all is perhaps not as it has been represented. The Associated Press, for instance, has reported on one prisoner in particular whose case is particularly tragic. Abdul Rahim, a Syrian of Kurdish extraction, apparently fled to Afghanistan to escape his overbearing father, but has seen his situation spiral out of control:

Arrested by the Taliban in Afghanistan in January 2000, Rahim says al-Qaeda leaders burned him with cigarettes, smashed his right hand, deprived him of sleep, nearly drowned him and hanged him from the ceiling until he "confessed" to spying for the United States.

U.S. forces took the young Kurd from Syria into custody in January 2002 after the Taliban fled his prison. Accusing him of being an al-Qaeda terrorist, U.S. interrogators deprived him of sleep, threatened him with police dogs and kept him in stress positions for hours, he says. He's been held ever since as an enemy combatant.

There is also Adel Hassan Hamad, a Sudanese hospital administrator arrested in Pakistan in 2002, who was imprisoned apparently because some of his co-workers at the charity where he worked harbored terrorist ideals. A U.S. Army major with access to both the secret and public evidence against Hamad termed his imprisonment "unconscionable," yet he still he remains behind American bars. Likewise, Nazar "Chaman" Gul, a 29-year-old Afghani accused of being a member of a terrorist group, was shipped off to Gitmo because his lawyers state, he has been mistaken for a commander of that group, also named Chaman Gul. Ironically, despite strong character witnesses from his supervisor at the fuel dump where he worked, and the fact that the real Chaman Gul is also imprisoned at Camp Delta, Nazar Gul remains incarcerated.

Chillingly, those who have been swept up by the American dragnet, and against whom no solid case can be built, are paying dearly for being in the wrong place at the wrong time, or even for wearing the wrong kind of clothing:
Fallon said two detainees were suspected in a rocket attack against U.S. forces in Afghanistan. The evidence against them was that they were found wearing dark olive green jackets similar to the one worn by the attacker. "I’ve been to Kabul," he said. "That’s the only color jacket I’ve seen."
It should be emphasized that it is unlikely that all of the prisoners at Guantanamo Bay are innocent of having acted against the United States. Undoubtedly, there are men held there who mean this country and its people harm. That said, if we, as Americans, are going to incarcerate people without any sort of due process, we are selling our country's soul for a quick fix that accomplishes little except the erosion of our standing as a nation of laws. What matters most right now is not whether the men at Camp Delta are guilty, but that, for the vast majority who remain within its walls, no one will ever know one way or the other. In the words of Lieutenant Commander Charles Swift:
It‘s not whether they deserve it or not. It‘s how we conduct ourselves. It has to do where if we say that our opponent can cause us not to follow the rules anymore, then we‘ve lost who we are. We‘re the good guys. We‘re the guys who follow the rule and the people we fight are the bad guys and we show that every day when we follow the rules, regardless of what they do. It‘s what sets us apart. It‘s what makes us great and in my mind, it‘s what makes us undefeatable, ultimately.
As details trickle out about the loose criteria, lack of rigor and absence of accountability used in imprisoning people indefinitely without trial, the Bush Administration's fervor for the full frontal assault on the Bill of Rights that is the Military Commissions Act becomes more clear. The president of the United States, under the Act, now has the legal authority to continue doing exactly what he has been doing at Camp Delta since its construction: violate the very individual rights that are the foundation of the United States of America.

Until that changes, we have, in fact, lost who we are. And we are no longer unconquerable, because we are rotting from within.


[For more on the treatment of American prisoners, see
American Values Under the Bush Administration at Unclaimed Territory.]

1 comment:

David said...

You can learn more about this issue, and Adel Hamad by visiting: